Trump campaign launches Jewish outreach coalition

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign will launch a Jewish outreach team on Wednesday aimed at promoting the Trump administration’s record on Israel and efforts to combat the rise in antisemitism ahead of the November presidential election.

The group, named Jewish Voices for Trump, will be co-chaired by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, along with Republican Jewish Coalition board member Wayne Berman, former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn and Julie Strauss Levin, wife of TV and radio personality Mark Levin. 

Trump reportedly scolded Adelson in a phone call last month for not spending enough on his reelection. Adelson “chose not to come back at Trump,” Politico reported. Axios later reported that Adelson has signaled he is poised to spend big to support the president’s reelection.

“President Trump has fought against antisemitism in America and throughout the world while continuing to ensure the long-term success and security of the Jewish state,” Epshteyn, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, told Jewish Insider. Citing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the recently signed peace accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Epshteyn said, “Trump’s record on Israel and the Middle East can be summed up in four words: promises made, promises kept.” 

A number of prominent Jewish Republicans sit on the group’s advisory board, including former Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, Houston-based GOP donor Fred Zeidman, Chairman of the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Paul Packer, CEO of Miller Strategies Jeff Miller, Fox Paine & Company CEO Saul Fox, Boca Raton-based investor Marc Goldman, CEO of Hudson Bay Capital Sander Gerber, MizMaa Ventures co-founder Yitz Applbaum, nursing home operator Louis Scheiner, Blackstone’s Eli Miller, Mark Levenson, Dr. Jeffrey Feingold, and Haim Chera, son of the late Stanley Chera, among others.

“Never before have we seen an American president more dedicated to uplifting and protecting the Jewish people at home and around the world,” a Trump campaign official noted about the group’s launch. 

In addition to highlighting the administration’s Israel policy and the measures signed by the president to combat antisemitism, the group will also focus on Trump’s economic and trade policies. 

Epshteyn stressed that Trump’s record stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party, which he referred to as the “radical hateful Democrats.”

David Perdue and Jon Ossoff address antisemitism ahead of close election

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) has strong words against antisemitism. 

“Antisemitism has no place in society, period,” he told Jewish Insider in a candidate questionnaire. “It’s horrifying any time you see hate perpetrated against Jewish people in the United States or anywhere around the world.”

Despite his emphatic beliefs, Perdue’s opponent in Georgia’s upcoming Senate election, former journalist Jon Ossoff — who is Jewish — has argued that Perdue himself has recently perpetrated antisemitic hatred. 

In late July, Perdue’s campaign tactics came under scrutiny when the first-term Republican senator published a Facebook ad that enlarged Ossoff’s nose — a classic antisemitic stereotype. A spokesman for Perdue told The Forward, which first reported on the image, that the edit was “accidental” and the ad would be removed from the site. 

But Ossoff wasn’t buying it. “This is the oldest, most obvious, least original antisemitic trope in history,” the 33-year-old Democratic candidate wrote in a Twitter statement when the ad was publicized by national media outlets. “Senator, literally no one believes your excuses.”

(Read the complete Perdue and Ossoff questionnaires, along with many others on JI’s interactive election map.)

Perdue did not mention the ad in his responses to the JI questionnaire, which includes a question asking candidates whether they believe there is a concerning rise of antisemitism, including in their own party.  

“I’ve been a friend of Israel and the Jewish community since I was very young,” the senator averred. “Since I got to the U.S. Senate, I’ve made fighting antisemitism and all forms of bigotry a top priority. Unfortunately, we saw this issue at the forefront in 2017 after a string of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the country. That was unacceptable, and I worked with national security officials in the Trump administration to make sure there would be a long-term strategy to protect these JCCs and other places of worship.”

For his part, Ossoff also chose to not directly address Perdue’s controversial ad in responding to JI’s questionnaire, despite his previous caustic statement directed at the incumbent. 

“Sectarianism and racism often increase at moments of great social, economic, and political stress — especially when dangerous political demagogues like Donald Trump deliberately inflame mistrust, resentment, and hatred to gain power,” Ossoff told JI. “Racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia have increased in America as President Trump has deliberately pitted Americans against Americans, stirring up conflict within our society rather than uniting us to move forward together as one people.”

But Ossoff’s answer could also have been regarded as an implicit critique of Perdue’s reelection tactics. “I learned about public and political leadership from my mentor, Congressman John Lewis, who taught me to focus on our shared humanity above our racial, religious and cultural differences,” Ossoff continued, referring to the Georgia representative and civil rights leader who endorsed Ossoff before his death on July 17. 

“My state, our country and all humanity will only achieve our full potential and build the Beloved Community [a term coined by Lewis] by recognizing that we are all in this together, that our interests are aligned and that hatred, prejudice and discrimination only hold us back.”

Despite the tension between the two candidates, both emphasized their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“Any peace deal should protect the political freedom and human rights of all people in the region and ensure Israel’s security as a homeland for the Jewish people without threat of terrorism or invasion,” Ossoff declared. “The aim of the peace process should be secure and peaceful coexistence, political freedom and prosperity for people of all faiths and nationalities in the Middle East.”

“Obviously there is no simple fix but a two-state solution would be the best outcome for both sides,” Perdue told JI. “However, that won’t happen unless the Palestinians are willing to come to the table, negotiate in good faith and cut ties with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestinian Authority has to end their practice of providing stipends for known terrorists. It’s ridiculous and the reason I support the Taylor Force Act. We’ve got to make sure the United States isn’t sending foreign aid until these payments end. Israel has made it clear that they are open to living in peace with the Palestinians. You’ve seen a willingness by Israel to begin negotiations. The Palestinians must do the same in order to solve this issue.”

Perdue and Ossoff also both expressed their commitment to ensuring that Israel maintains its security edge in the Middle East. 

“The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel is deeply rooted and strategically important to both countries, but it cannot be taken for granted,” Ossoff told JI. “Security cooperation, trade and cultural ties enrich and strengthen both countries. The U.S. Congress, with strong bipartisan support, should play an essential role in maintaining and strengthening healthy and open relations between the U.S. and Israel.”

“The U.S.-Israel relationship is both special and strategic,” Perdue said, while noting that his first foreign trip as a senator was to Israel. “It is special because we share the common values of freedom and democracy, and it’s strategic because Israel is America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.”

“President Trump has shown that Israel is and will continue to be a priority,” Perdue added. “By moving our U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the president recognized the historic and modern reality that Jerusalem is the center for the Jewish people and all parts of Israeli government. Jerusalem is unquestionably Israel’s capital.”

Still, Perdue and Ossoff differ when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

Perdue supports Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement. “President Obama’s Iran deal was an unmitigated disaster,” he told JI. “It’s very clear that the Obama-Biden Administration’s weak foreign policy only emboldened Iran and made the world less safe. Trusting Iran to change was not only naive, but it also created a national security risk for our ally Israel.”

Ossoff disagrees, with qualifications. “Nuclear weapons proliferation is one of the gravest threats to U.S. and world security,” he said. “I support robust efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons anywhere. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability would pose an existential threat to Israel and other U.S. allies and would pose a critical threat to U.S. national security.”

“I opposed the Trump administration’s unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA,” he added. “In the Senate, I will support U.S. participation in an agreement that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons, whether based on the JCPOA, another multilateral agreement or a desperately needed new global nuclear arms reduction and nonproliferation treaty.”

Ossoff, who narrowly lost a 2017 congressional bid, is hoping he can best Perdue in November’s election as the Democrats are strategizing to flip the Senate. The Cook Political Report has rated the race a “toss-up.”

Despite acrimony, Loeffler and Collins walk in virtual lockstep on Israel

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) are locked in an acrimonious battle ahead of the U.S. Senate special election in Georgia on November 3. Collins, who represents a portion of northeastern Georgia, entered the race to compete against Loeffler shortly after she assumed office in early January, having been appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp against the objections of President Donald Trump, who favored Collins for the seat.

But when it comes to Israel, the two Republican candidates hold virtually indistinguishable views, according to questionnaires solicited by Jewish Insider and filled out by the candidates. 

Loeffler and Collins both support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorse Trump’s Middle East peace plan, back continued foreign aid to the Jewish state and believe that the administration was right to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama.

“We knew from the beginning that any deal negotiated by the Obama Administration would not go far enough to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or to protect Israel from a nuclear Iran,” Collins wrote in response to questions from JI, echoing Loeffler, who said that Iran had “only become more emboldened in its efforts to attack U.S. interests and U.S. allies like Israel” during the time that the deal was in place.

(Read the Collins and Loeffler questionnaires, and many others, on Jewish Insider’s interactive election map.)

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Loeffler and Collins — both of whom have positioned themselves as Trump loyalists — hold harmonious views. 

“I agree with President Trump that, especially given Israel’s agreement to terms for a potential Palestinian state, a two-state solution is a pragmatic approach that respects the validity of Israel and its people while giving Palestinians the opportunity to self-govern and remain in their communities,” Collins wrote. “Within a two-state solution, it is imperative that Israel remain the ultimate guardian of holy sites and Jerusalem to ensure all who want to worship in these sacred places will continue to have the opportunity to do so. It is also imperative that, in any agreement, Israel has defensible borders to continue to protect themselves from any future attacks.”

The senator’s response was similar. “It has become increasingly clear that a two-state solution is the best path to peace in the Middle East, and I support President Trump’s historic efforts to deliver Israel the security and autonomy it needs to prosper,” she said. “Like President Trump, I believe that any path to peace must recognize undivided Jerusalem as the capital and territory of Israel.”

Loeffler added that “any Palestinian nation must be strictly policed to ensure that the violence perpetuated by Palestinians (especially through Hamas) comes to an end so that both the Palestinians and the Israeli people can fully prosper.”

Both candidates cited their records on the Hill supporting aid to Israel. Collins, for his part, pointed to legislation he introduced in 2013 to bolster Israel’s defense interests, while Loeffler noted that she was a co-sponsor of the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, “which will send additional funds to Israel in order to upgrade its military equipment, improve its ground force, strengthen its missile defense system, and expand the U.S. weapons stockpile in Israel.”

The candidates also agree that there is a concerning rise of antisemitism in the U.S., but reserve judgement only for the Democratic Party. “Sadly, we have witnessed this rising tide of antisemitism in Congress over the last several years,” Collins said, “with a growing number of members in the Democratic Caucus voicing their support for the BDS movement, which attacks Israel’s very right to exist.”

Loeffler went a step further in her questionnaire, calling out Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) who, according to the senator, “has repeatedly called Israel evil and openly called for the dissolution of the nation state of Israel.” She was also critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, which, she wrote, “continually endorses the BDS movement and has called Israel an ‘apartheid state.’”

Loeffler and Collins are running in a competitive special election that includes two formidable Democratic opponents: Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Matt Lieberman, son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). 

Should no candidate clear 50% of the vote on November 3, then the top two candidates will advance to a runoff to be held in January.

Senate GOP primary comes down to the wire in Kansas

Kris Kobach, the former Secretary of State of Kansas, has accepted donations from white nationalists, paid an individual who posted racist comments on a white nationalist website and allegedly employed three other white nationalists during his failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

He is also a leading contender in today’s crowded Senate primary in Kansas, featuring no fewer than 11 Republican candidates jockeying to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). Kobach’s presence in the race has put extremism experts on alert.

“It’s just a very consistent record that he takes these far-right, nativist, anti-immigration views,” said David Neiwert, the author of Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump, who kept a close eye on Kobach’s trajectory when he worked as a correspondent for the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is Kris Kobach’s identity.”

The Anti-Defamation League is similarly wary of Kobach, a 54-year-old immigration hardliner with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford who currently writes a column for Breitbart.

“Kris Kobach is an anti-immigrant bigot who spoke in 2015 at an event organized by a publisher that routinely elevates the writings of white supremacists,” an ADL spokesperson told Jewish Insider, referring to Kobach’s appearance at an event hosted by the Social Contract Press, founded by white nationalist John Tanton. “He has also championed the baseless conspiracy theory about rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election, and has been credibly accused of promoting legislation that engages in racial profiling, including Arizona’s controversial ‘Show Me Your Papers’ law.”

Kobach’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview.

Heading into Tuesday’s primary, political scientists told JI that with little polling data available, it’s unclear who currently leads the Republican field, though Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) has emerged alongside Kobach as one of the stronger candidates in the race. 

“The best guess is that it’s some kind of coin flip, probably between Kobach and Marshall,” said Patrick R. Miller, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Kansas.

Though Kobach has been gaining momentum, one of his weak spots is his “poor fundraising,” according to Miller. Kobach, who in 2004 unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Kansas’s 3rd congressional district, has raked in approximately $940,000, according to the Federal Election commission — far less than Marshall, who has raised $2.7 million. 

Still, Kobach’s campaign has been buoyed by billionaire tech mogul Peter Thiel, who has pumped $850,000 into a super PAC supporting the insurgent candidate. 

Kobach has also garnered unexpected support from a separate, Democratic-linked super PAC, which is spending millions of dollars to run ads that characterize Kobach as a more committed conservative than Marshall — the subtext being that Democrats view Kobach as the weaker Republican candidate in the general election.

Kris Kobach vs Roger Marshall
Rep. Roger Marshall (Eric Connolly, U.S. House Office of Photography)

Some establishment Republicans seem to agree, experts say. “They’re definitely afraid Kobach will win the nomination,” Burdett Loomis, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, told JI. “If Kobach wins, the seat immediately turns into a tossup.”

Marshall, for his part, has also benefited from some outside spending, though the GOP was initially skeptical of his candidacy: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly advocated for former senator and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for the seat, despite repeated rejections from Pompeo. Now, a McConnell-aligned super PAC is spending $1.2 million to boost Marshall. 

“He might be the rickety tank they’re reluctantly riding into battle, but it’s the only tank they have,” Miller said of Marshall, 59, who has represented Kansas’s 1st congressional district since 2017.

Gavriela Geller, director of JCRB/AJC Kansas City, an organization that merged the regional office of the American Jewish Committee and the local Jewish Community Relations Bureau, said that Marshall has been receptive to meeting members of the Jewish community in Kansas and hearing their concerns. 

“We would hope that whoever wins the Senate seat will be similarly receptive to working with us and addressing the multiple sources of rising antisemitism in this country, including a troubling increase in white nationalist rhetoric and violence, which is of particular concern in our region,” Geller told JI, noting that she could not endorse any candidate in the race because her organization is nonpartisan. 

Despite pressure from some party leaders to endorse Marshall, President Donald Trump also appears set on staying out of the primary. Kobach, a Trump ally, had previously been considered for positions as Trump’s “immigration czar” as well as secretary of homeland security.

Another Republican candidate, Bob Hamilton, a former plumbing company owner well-known in the state for ads that featured his name, has shifted the dynamics of the race in recent weeks by spending more than $2 million of his own money on advertising. Experts say that won’t put him in the lead, but Hamilton’s efforts to boost his profile could pull support away from the other candidates and give one of them an edge.

The competing ads have made for a confusing situation for Republican voters. “People aren’t talking much about policy,” said Loomis.

Kansas State Sen. Barbara Bollier (Courtesy)

On the other side of the aisle, State Senator Barbara Bollier is running essentially uncontested for the Democratic nomination. She became known in the state for switching her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat at the end of 2018, and has built a reputation as a centrist candidate. 

“She’s proving to be a more credible candidate and a stronger candidate than people thought she would be,” said Miller, “and I think Republicans would be foolish to discount that.”

A June 2 poll found Bollier in a statistical dead heat with Marshall, Kobach and Hamilton in hypothetical general election matchups. 

A May 28 poll, however, found Marshall 11 points ahead of Bollier, and Bollier and Kobach tied. Bollier has stunned observers in the state, Miller said, by far outraising each of her Republican opponents in the race: She’s already raised $7.8 million, with more than $4 million still on hand.

But more surprising, perhaps, is the fact that Kobach has emerged as an ostensible frontrunner in Kansas’s packed Republican primary field. “It’s a Republican state, but historically it has not been a far-right Republican state,” Loomis said. 

When the votes are counted, Kansans will find out whether that formulation holds up.

High-stakes Republican runoff in Texas attracts national attention

Tony Gonzales recently spent two years in Washington, working as a Department of Defense legislative fellow for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Now, the former Navy master chief petty officer is looking to return to the nation’s capital — as the congressman representing Texas’s 23rd congressional district.

Gonzales, who comes armed with the endorsement of President Donald Trump, is likely to win Tuesday’s runoff against another veteran, Raul Reyes. Gonzales came out on top in the March 3 primary, taking 28% of the vote to Reyes’ 23%. The winner will go up against Gina Ortiz Jones, who handily beat her opponents in the Democratic primary.

Jones narrowly lost her 2018 bid against Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who announced last August that he would not be seeking a fourth term. This year, Jones is favored to win in the district that The Cook Political Report rates as “Lean Democratic.”

But Gonzales is up for the challenge, telling Jewish Insider that he can deliver a victory against Jones in November where Reyes cannot. “I have the experience of being on Capitol Hill, drafting legislation, staffing, hearings, doing constituent services,” he said. 

Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, agreed that Reyes would be unlikely to win in November.

“Whoever wins [the runoff]… will have a real uphill struggle against Gina Ortiz Jones,” Jones continued. “It’s going to be really tough for Gonzales to win that seat.”

But Gonzales is optimistic that voters in the district, which has flipped between Democratic and Republican control in recent years but was held by Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla for 14 years, will turn out for him in November. He pointed out that he’s a Hispanic candidate running in a majority-Hispanic district, an advantage over Jones.

***

Should he win, Gonzales would bring to Congress a font of Middle East policy expertise. While in the military, he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And while working for Rubio, he focused on defense, national security and intelligence issues, with a particular focus on the Middle East.

“I spent my entire adult life basically at war,” he said. “A big part of my message is taking care of veterans, on one hand. The other aspect of it is for America to be firm. I believe in peace through strength.”

In 2018, as a national security fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Gonzales visited Israel, which he said helped shape his view of the region and understanding of the geopolitical situation.

“I read about the Golan Heights and studied it and I understood its strategic importance,” he said, explaining that seeing the situation on the ground allowed him to realize that the area was more than a military interest. “But when you visit it, the part that is left out is there’s this amazing winery just miles from the Golan Heights. So in my eyes, yeah, of course Israel would never give up that area.”

Julia Schulman, senior director of special projects at FDD, told JI, “Gina and Tony are both members of FDD’s non-partisan national security alumni network. Both are dedicated public servants who were actively engaged in our programming. Both have exciting careers ahead and we look forward to seeing how they continue to serve our country.”

Gonzales said he does not believe the U.S. should dictate any specific peace plan for the region, nor should it dictate whether Israel should be allowed to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank.

“The Israelis and the Palestinians, I think, should lead the way,” he said. “I think [America’s] role is to bring those [actors] together and open up a dialogue, not necessarily dictate what that peace process should be like.”

He added, however, “my experience in the military has taught me that you really can’t have peace unless you have partners that are willing to have that discussion. So I think it starts there.”

Although Gonzales believes that peace negotiations also are the best way to resolve the U.S. conflict with Iran, he did not support the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with the regime.

“I’d love nothing more than Iran to come to the negotiating table and have a dialogue and a discussion. That’s, I believe, how we solve a long-term solution,” he said. “In the meantime, though, that region of the world views strength through power.”

In this sense, Gonzales said, the Trump administration’s tougher posture toward Iran, including the strike which killed Gen. Qassem Solemaini, has been a net positive.

Gonzales — who was a Navy cryptologist — said Iran, as well as Russia and China, pose major cyber threats to the U.S., including U.S. elections.

“Our greatest [external] adversaries are China, Russia and Iran,” he said. “The number one thing is having the dialogue and saying, ‘Yes, China is trying to impact our elections. Yes, Russia is trying to impact our elections. Yes, Iran and others are trying to impact our elections.’ Why? Because they’re our adversaries. They’re trying to undermine us. And I think just being able to say that is already a win that we don’t have on Capitol Hill.”

***

What was anticipated to be a fairly quiet runoff in southwestern Texas between two military veterans has become the site of a high-stakes clash between major players in the national GOP. 

Gonzales has the support of Trump, Hurd and other GOP leaders, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) broke with the party to support Reyes, boosting him with a massive ad campaign that raised eyebrows at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

And on the eve of the primary, Trump’s campaign sent a strongly worded letter to Reyes’s campaign, admonishing him for using the president’s name and image on a mailer. 

“President Trump and his campaign do not support your candidacy in TX-23’s July 14 runoff primary,” Trump campaign executive director Michael Glassner said in the letter, which was first reported by Politico. “Your campaign’s efforts to make voters believe otherwise are deceptive and unfair.”

Reyes’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones said Trump’s endorsement helped shore up Gonzales’ campaign by shielding him from Reyes’s claims that he’s too much of an establishment Republican.

“I think Gonzales is going to [win that runoff] pretty easily,” Jones told JI.

But if he doesn’t, Jones predicts the race will drop off the radar of the GOP. “If Reyes wins, I would expect national Republicans to pull the plug on [TX]23,” Jones told JI. “If Reyes wins, [the district] will cease to be a real priority.”

Eyeing the races in Texas’s much-anticipated primary runoffs

There are a number of intriguing races to watch in Texas’s primary runoffs today. Patrick Svitek, a political correspondent for the Texas Tribune, ran through some of the most noteworthy matchups in a recent interview with Jewish Insider. Here’s what he’s keeping an eye on as votes are tallied today:

Senate runoff: At the top of the ticket is the Democratic primary runoff for the United States Senate. M.J. Hegar, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, is going up against Royce West, a veteran state politician who has served in the Texas Senate for close to three decades. Though West has trailed Hegar in the polls, he has slightly closed the gap in recent weeks as mass protests against police brutality have swept the nation. But West, who is African American, isn’t exactly an upstart progressive along the lines of Charles Booker, who came close to defeating Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s recent Senate primary race.

“I don’t think it’s an explicit moderate-versus-progressive matchup,” Svitek said of the West-Hegar contest. “And I think it may be tempting for folks from outside the state to kind of put it through that lens.” Svitek believes that Hegar — who is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and has outraised her opponent — is the ultimate favorite in the race. Whether she will be able to defeat Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) in November, however, is another story. Hegar is still something of a long shot, according to Svitek, but Trump’s sagging poll numbers may bode well for her. “I think she’s increasingly coming on the radar because of how close the presidential race is looking in the state,” Svitek said. 

TX-13: In Texas’s 13th congressional district, Ronny Jackson, Trump’s former doctor, is going up against Josh Winegarner, a cattle industry lobbyist, in the open-seat race to replace outgoing Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX). Svitek described the race as the “most contentious” in the state. Jackson, who has been endorsed by the president, has accused his opponent of being anti-Trump, while Winegarner has attacked Jackson for only recently moving to the district. As of a week ago, Svitek said, it looked as if Jackson had the edge, but more recently, the race has tightened. “That’s one to watch, for sure,” he told JI. 

TX-10: In 2018, Mike Siegel, a progressive Democrat, came within just four percentage points of beating Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) in the state’s 10th congressional district, a historically conservative swath between Austin and Houston. He is trying again this cycle, but first, Siegel will have to defeat Pritesh Gandhi, a well-known doctor in the district. “Gandhi is not as progressive as Siegel,” Svitek said, “but has run a pretty strong race, been the top fundraiser, brings a really interesting story as a physician here in Austin for a community health clinic, and he’s obviously benefited from being in the spotlight on the frontlines of the coronavirus.”

Still, Svitek added, Siegel has built-in name recognition from his last attempt at the seat, which may give him an advantage in the runoff. Regardless of who wins, it will be a competitive race in the general election in a district that has been trending purple in recent years. “The challenge with McCaul is that he has been able to prepare for this race since January 2019,” said Siegel, adding, “He’s also incredibly independently wealthy, and while he has been fine fundraising on his own so far, he could write himself a $5 million check tomorrow and kind of take this race off the grid.”

TX-17: Former Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost to a Democrat in 2018 in the state’s 32nd district, is trying to make his way back to the House in the open-seat contest to replace retiring Rep. Bill Flores in Texas’s 17th congressional district, which includes the city of Waco. But Sessions may have some trouble regaining entry given that Flores has endorsed the other candidate in the race local businesswoman Renee Swan. 

“It’s been a unique race in that the outgoing incumbent, I think, has really played an outsized role in trying to shape the field and the battle lines,” said Svitek. “He wanted someone with stronger roots in the district than some guy who just represented Dallas for a long time.” Svitek told JI that Sessions may be the slight favorite in the district given his name recognition. “But I think it’s going to be a close race, regardless.”

TX-24: Two Democrats are running in a competitive district for the chance to succeed Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX), who is retiring at the end of his term. Kim Olson, a former military pilot, is something of a “mini-celebrity” in the state thanks to her run for Texas agricultural commissioner two years ago, said Svitek. “It looked like she was going to be the candidate to beat in this current race,” he said. Candace Valenzuela, a young progressive candidate of color, got into the race a little later than Olson and had a pretty slow fundraising start. 

But then Valenzuela picked up the endorsement of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Emily’s List, as well as Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Although Olson has been the top fundraiser in the race, Svitek said, Valenzuela has caught up with her and surpassed her in the most recent period. “Valenzuela has really built considerable momentum in this runoff,” he told JI.

TX-22: Two far-right candidates — Kathaleen Wall and Troy Nehls — are vying to succeed Republican Rep. Pete Olson, who isn’t seeking re-election, in this district in the Houston suburbs. Wall, a wealthy Repulican donor, is almost exclusively self-funding her campaign, Svitek pointed out. Nehls, a sheriff in Fort Bend County — which Svitek said contributes to about 70% of the vote in the district — has struggled to raise money, but has a solid base of support. “He just seems to cultivate loyalty among his followers,” Svitek told JI.

Wall, for her part, lost her bid for Congress last cycle in a separate district in Texas. “It was kind of an embarrassing loss for her,” Svitek said. And Nehls has some “vulnerabilities in his law enforcement background” that may put him at risk in the general election. Whoever emerges victorious will face stiff competition from Sri Kulkarni, the Democratic opponent who won his primary outright and lost to Olson by less than 5 percentage points last cycle. “If you look at the competitive districts in Texas, on paper, that one is maybe middle of the pack, but I think because of the current dynamic there, where you have a really strong candidate who’s already won his primary in Kulkarni, and you have this very messy runoff between these two candidates with unique flaws, I think that that district has kind of moved up the ranking.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.