Forget about the presidential sweepstakes. (You know you want to.)
Anyway, there’s virtually nothing you can do right now to change the outcome. If you need a reality check about how volatile the process is, remember that Ric Santorum won the Iowa caucuses in 2012. Mike Huckabee won in 2008. At this point in the cycle in 2004, Howard Dean was leading the pack with 22% and John Kerry (who eventually won the party nod) was in the cellar at 8%.
And how can we forget Ben Carson? At this point four years ago, he was the leading the Republican pack.
So instead of randomly obsessing, do something right now that can determine how the country is governed in 2021 - whether we flip the Senate and hold, or expand, our House majority. Starting today, December is primetime for subscribing to the “early money” strategy that helps vulnerable candidates show the strength necessary to scare off challengers.
If you want to give a “little” money where it might make a difference, you’ll amplify your impact if you do it before we ring in 2020. An infusion of cash to those I’ve profiled in my “Ten Early Money Races” could substantively change the contours of their campaigns and their chances of winning in November.
For those of you who want to know how I chose my top ten races, you’ll find my methodology (and explanation of numerical metrics) beneath my signature below. Suffice it to say that I’ve focused on the most precarious races while culling marquee candidates who have captured the national spotlight and are flush with funds. That excluded races like those of Amy McGrath, who is running to Ditch Mitch; Mark Kelly, who is vying to defeat Senator Martha McSally from Arizona; and Congressman Antonio Delgado who’s elevated raising money to an art form.
You should also know that thanks to a “one-stop shopping” link, you can choose how to distribute your contribution with just a couple of clicks on a single page. You can donate, for instance, $100 that will be divided evenly among the 10 candidates with each candidate receiving $10: or, you can choose to allocate and apportion your money any way you like. Please remember the candidates will get more bang from your buck if you get the money to them by December 31st.
To make a contribution, just click on this link: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/janewhitney
If resources are an issue, head to the candidate’s website, which I’ve listed below, to volunteer your time and talent. And please be assured that I’ll be updating this list as conditions on the ground shift.
Until then, here are 10 candidates who personify the best of public service and need our help to win.
Ten Early Money Races to Hold the House and Help Flip the Senate
U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-1)
Trump +4, Finkenauer +5
2020 Race rated toss-up by Cook & Sabato, “tilts” Dem by Inside Elections
District Partisan Lean: D +1
Democrat Abby Finkenauer was among those who defied political gravity and flipped the Iowa 1st Congressional district in 2018. Back then, her race was flagged as one of the Top Ten Toss-ups by every major polling service as well as a bellwether for the blue wave in the midterms.
When I met Abby last August, she predicted she’d face a crushing re-elect in 2020. She was right. Attack ads targeting her are already up on the air and the GOP is hellbent on taking back her seat. And to prove it, they’re pulling out all the stops for Abby’s opponent Ashley Hinson who’s considered one of the rising stars of the Republican Party. Hinson, a former TV anchor and Iowa state representative has already attracted big money thanks to Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio stumping for her on the campaign trail. Hinson is also getting a boost from her recruiter, Rep. Elise Stefanik, the New York representative who emerged as a Republican star by attacking witness during the impeachment hearings.
Abby says her district is still a bellwether — as the Iowa 1st goes, so go the Democrats' fortunes in the House. When I met with her recently, she noted that her opponent is already heavily financed. So Abby hopes that racking up a big total for her 4th quarter fundraising will underscore the strong message that she’s a formidable incumbent.
Abby is a perfect fit for the Iowa 1st, a rural district where farming has been hard hit by Trump’s trade war and regressive policies. She’s also an avatar for public service who puts her struggling constituents ahead of party.
U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn (OK-5)
Trump +14, Horn +1
2020 Race rated toss-up by all ratings services + WaPo and Roll Call
District Partisan Lean: R + 10
Often branded "the most endangered Democrat in the country," Horn flipped her Republican Oklahoma City area district for the first time in 42 years by 1 point. That, plus Trump’s robust support, have operatives from both parties questioning whether Horn’s 2018 victory was a fluke — or whether she can prevail again thanks to an influx of young, educated professionals as well as a burgeoning Hispanic population. Horn’s support for the impeachment inquiry recently unleashed a $250K dark money campaign against her.
Horn has helped pass bills that would increase veterans’ access to health care and helped a bill win almost unanimous support to provide funding to test backlogged rape kits.
In this video, Horn shares how she pulled off her upset victory and talks about transcending partisan politics.
U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC-1)
Trump +11, Cunningham +1
2020: Race rated a toss-up by all ratings services + WaPo and Roll Call
District Partisan Lean: R + 10
Last November, the Charleston Democrat staged a stunning upset and, for the first time in 40 years, turned his district blue. Now, South Carolina Republicans have painted a target on his back. Like most of his vulnerable congressional colleagues, Cunningham is walking a tightrope on the impeachment inquiry and is already under attack on TV and social media by conservative groups.
Cunningham, a former ocean engineer and avowed environmentalist, distinguished himself from his Republican rival during his campaign by opposing offshore drilling. This time around he can tout the bill he spearheaded to ban the practice (even though it’s languishing in the graveyard of McConnell’s desk along with more than 400 other pieces of House legislation passed by the 116th Congress.)
You can get a sense of Cunningham’s gestalt by watching one of his 2018 campaign ads here.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22)
Trump +15, Brindisi +2
2020: Race rated a toss up by all ratings services + WaPo & Roll Call
District Partisan Lean: R +6
Of the 43 seats Democrats flipped in 2018, Brindisi’s backed Trump by the highest margin two years earlier. Republicans believe Trump’s presence on the 2020 ballot will bring out his supporters in this upstate New York district who stayed home in 2018, dooming Brindisi. But don’t count him out, as I found out last year when I spoke with the earnest public education advocate and lifelong resident of his upstate New York district.
It was actually Brindisi’s predecessor and opponent — then Rep. Claudia Tenney — who put him on my radar. Tenney, who embraces Trump’s confrontational style, opposed the Marriage Equality Act and routinely voted against women’s reproductive rights. In a radio interview shortly after the February 2018 Parkland Florida high school shooting, Tenney said, "It's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats.”
Now Tenney is back and running for her old seat in 2020. But, Brindisi’s crossover appeal to Republicans — as illustrated in this 2018 ad “Tractor Supply"— could help him pull out a tough re-elect.
U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams (UT-4)
Trump +7, McAdams +0.3
2020: Rated a toss-up by all ratings services + WaPo & Roll Call
District Partisan Lean: R +13
McAdams is seen as one of the country’s most vulnerable Democrats in Congress in the 2020 election. Last year he won the 4th District seat that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties by less than 700 votes, defeating two-term Rep. Mia Love in a costly and contentious race. A growing field of Republicans has already jumped in to challenge the popular former mayor of Salt Lake County next November.
As one of a handful of Democratic hold-outs regarding the impeachment inquiry, McAdams finally announced his support and said, “It is my duty to allow this process to play out without partisanship and with impartiality.”
U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small (NM-2)
Trump +10, Torres Small +2
2020: Rated a toss-up by all ratings services + WaPo & Roll Call
District Partisan Lean: R +6
Moderate "Blue Dog" Democrat Torres-Small represents one of the seats that Republicans feel they should be able to wrest back. Yet, despite a narrow margin of victory, the water rights lawyer who campaigned with videos showing off her rifle skills, is a good fit for the rural district. There’s a good chance the 2020 election will be a rematch with her 2018 rival, former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, who has rebuilt her campaign team and thinks Trump’s likely presence on the ballot will translate into victory this time around.
Torres-Small flipped her district by enlisting her Republican supporters to declare they were voting for “the person not the party.” She also took on key issues including immigration and environmental concerns that resonated with her constituents and was an outspoken opponent of family separation.
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-8)
Trump +6.7, Slotkin +3.8
2020: Rated Toss-up by Cook, Lean Dem by Sabato, Tilt Dem by Inside Elections
District Partisan Lean: R +4
Full disclosure: Slotkin is one of my favorite representatives. I was a fan from the moment she revealed that she decided to run against then-incumbent Mike Bishop because he had voted to kill the Affordable Care Act and then gloated about it in that legendary Rose Garden victory photo. It was personal for Slotkin. Her mother had been refused health care because of a pre-existing condition and subsequently died from ovarian cancer. When she called Bishop’s vote a “dereliction of duty” in an emotional campaign ad (chosen as one of the best of the 2018 cycle,) it gave me chills.
Now part of the so-called “Bad-Ass Women” who all served in the military or with one of the intelligence services, Slotkin is wicked smart. A former National Security Council staffer who worked in both the Bush and Obama administrations, she also served with the CIA and did 3 tours in Iraq.
Given her Republican majority district, Slotkin was one of the final group of representatives to support the impeachment inquiry. Along with her Bad-Ass colleagues, she wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining that their oath to the Constitution necessitated endorsing the fact-finding process. Still, Slotkin, along with many in districts Trump won in 2016, has been targeted for her involvement with the Trump “witch hunt.”
Aspirational House Seat: Texas-23 (being vacated by retiring Republican Will Hurd)
Candidate: Gina Ortiz Jones
2016: Clinton +3.5
Partisan Voter Lean: R +1
Jones was on my list of Top Ten Toss-up Races for the 2018 mid terms. In a heartbreaking loss, she fell short by 926 votes to incumbent Will Hurd. Six months later, she got back up on the horse and filed to run again for 2020. In a brief video posted to Twitter, Jones asked supporters to "join us as we finish what we started."
One headline from her last go-round, “Woman, Lesbian, Filipina-American, Iraq War Veteran poised to make history,” captured the rich texture of her personal story.
If you’re looking to bolster the campaign of someone who has a good shot an expanding our House majority, Jones is a very good bet.
Senator Doug Jones (D-AL)
Alabama Partisan Lean R +27
Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent heading into 2020.
Clinching a longshot victory in a 2017 special election, Jones became the first Democrat to represent Alabama in 20 years, beating Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Democrats argue Jones didn’t win because of Moore, but rather that he put together strong coalition largely of African American voters. But this is still deep red Trump country. And this time around several strong GOP contenders, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will make re-election a steep uphill battle for the underdog Democrat.
On the other hand, as this recent piece from Alabama.com posits, Democratic wins in the Kentucky and Louisiana governor races last month might bode well for Jones.
Doug Jones personifies decency. When you meet him, it’s easy to imagine him bringing the two Klansmen who murdered four young black girls in the 1963 church bombing to justice as he did when he convicted them as a U.S. Attorney. Watch a bit of his re-election kick-off video and you’ll see what I mean.
Aspirational Senate Seat: Iowa
Candidate: Theresa Greenfield running against incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst
Iowa Partisan Lean R +6
Theresa Greenfield’s excitement about her chances to flip Joni Ernst’s seat is palpable. When I spoke with her last month, she parroted 538’s latest poll numbers showing Joni Ernst’s net approval rating has dropped about 9 percentage points into negative territory — primarily among Republican voters. Trump’s popularity among farmers has taken a big hit because of his destructive tariffs. Plus, in 2018, Democrats flipped a couple of House seats and won two statewide offices, suggesting Iowa is in the mood to swing back after going for Trump by nine points in 2016.
Greenfield, a self-declared “farm kid” and small business, owner is an enormously appealing candidate. She’s also a survivor who weathered her share of economic crises as well as the death of her first husband in a freak accident while he was on the job as a union electrician. At the time, she had a 13-month old as well as another child on the way and says her lifesaver was social security, which enabled her to prevail through the worst chapter of her life. As a result, she projects populist credibility in accusing Ernst of selling out to corporate interests by seeking to privatize social security.
Watch her introductory spot “Worth Fighting For” and you’ll understand why she’s being seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party who has a very good shot at flipping a Senate seat.
Finally, if you have questions, let me know. Here’s hoping that taking action to support these candidates translates into a variation on Nancy Pelosi’s mantra: “Don’t agonize, organize.”
Methodology used to determine how my 8 House and 2 Senate candidates made the cut:
*I eliminated races not considered “toss ups” by at least two of the three political rating services — Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections.
*I assessed the candidate’s 2020 chances partially based on a.) Trump’s 2016 margin of victory in the district or state b.) their 2016 margin of victory c.) Partisan Voting Index, a measurement of how strongly a United States congressional district or state leans toward the Democratic or Republican Party, compared to the nation as a whole.(I’d love to see long shot aspirants— like NY-21 candidate Tedra Cobb running against Congresswoman Elise Stefanik who became a Democratic target after her odious performance at the impeachment inquiry or J.D. Scholten looking to oust racist Iowa lawmaker Steve King (IA-4)— defy the odds and prevail. But, if I’ve got $10 to contribute, I’d rather give it to someone who is better positioned to win.)
*Already under attack by the GOP via significant social media or ad buys
*Already have strong, well-funded Republican opponents declared and running against them