Major Congressional Races We Were Watching – Update


Readers of the Oct. 27 issue of Shortliner saw a commentary from agricultural political analyst Ray Starling characterize the race for the U.S. House seat in the Seventh District of Minnesota this way: “In my view, no race has more import for the future of American farm policy …”

David Valadao (R-Calif.) is leading in his race (by 1,719 as 11/23) to return to his U.S. House seat representing the 21st District. He holds a modest lead against Democrat TJ Cox, who narrowly defeated then-incumbent Valadao in 2018. (Details in the story titled “In Other Election News for Ag …)

Valadao is a former dairy farmer and is viewed as well-liked and energetic on ag issues, Starling wrote.

Incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) did not prevail. The toppling of the 15-term incumbent means the House committee will no longer be represented by someone hailing from one of the more agriculturally-focused districts in the country.

Starling described Peterson as a long-time friend to farmers on both sides of the aisle and said his likely successor, U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who represents parts of Atlanta, “would bring different priorities and perhaps much more progressive views into play.”

Scott, the second-highest ranking Democrat on the Ag Committee, sent a letter to colleagues last week kicking off his campaign.

“If elected, I would approach my role as the first African American to chair the Agriculture Committee, and the first African American from Georgia to chair any committee, with a principled focus on addressing inequities in agriculture and advancing racial progress for all,” he wrote.

Reps. Jim Costa (Calif.) and Marcia Fudge (Ohio), the next two most senior Democrats on the committee, are other possible contenders for the role.

Voters re-elected Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in a race that was too close to predict in the days preceding the vote. She has been a leader on ag issues through her work on the Senate Ag Committee, Starling said.

Voters also re-elected Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a contest that Starling said could be the make-or-break seat for the Republican majority in the Senate. (That remains an open question while we await a runoff in Georgia.) Tillis is “friendly on ag issues and a worker bee on labor programs from his perch on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Sources: The Hill, Starling, California Election website

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by Ray Starling

With only a week to go before the 2020 election, you may be exhausted by the thought of one more election analysis with unoriginal observations such as “This one is going to come down to turnout,” or “The candidate that carries Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin should go over the top in the electoral college.”

No kidding.

Let’s focus then not on empty rhetoric but rather races around the country that matter for agriculture. Here are a few contests that could shape the industry long term.

Seventh District Minnesota House Seat
UPDATE: Ag Chair Peterson Lost

In my view, no race has more import for the future of American farm policy than the nail-biter in the Seventh District of Minnesota. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the current House Agriculture Committee chair, has long been a friend to farmers on both sides of the aisle. Peterson’s 38-county district was, for a while, the most Trump-friendly congressional district to produce a Democratic congressman in the entire country.

In other words, there likely will be little help for Peterson at the top of the ticket in his district. His job is to convince voters to vote for both Trump and him, which he accomplished in 2016. Should Peterson lose and Democrats nonetheless hold the U.S. House, Georgia Congressman David Scott (D-Ga.), who represents parts of Atlanta, could wield the chair’s gavel. He would bring different priorities and perhaps much more progressive views into play.

North Carolina Senate Seat
UPDATE: With 98% counted – Tillis has a 95,735 vote lead

Full disclosure: I worked for Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). But, there is broad agreement that his seat could be the make-or-break seat for the Republican majority in the Senate. If he were to lose, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) could be the majority leader.

Tillis is friendly on ag issues and a worker bee on labor programs from his perch on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. He would be replaced by Democrat Cal Cunningham, who has been the beneficiary of more than $100 million in outside support. The risk is that Cunningham would take his cues from the majority leader instead of carving out his own path on agriculture and immigration.

Iowa Senate Seat
UPDATE: Ernst Won by 6.6%

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) had big shoes to fill when she arrived in the Senate in 2015. Serving alongside venerable Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would be like coaching basketball alongside Dean Smith. She has nonetheless done so admirably, and she has been a leader on ag issues through her work on the Senate Ag Committee and her effort to preserve ethanol demand requirements.

Polls show Ernst within the margin of error—or perhaps just behind—Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield. With last-minute investments pouring into this contest (Ernst is the victim of over $45 million in negative ads), it is clear this also could be one to decide the Senate majority. Should Ernst not prevail, the Senate Ag Committee may get its first female urban land planner and real estate developer in Greenfield.

21st District California House Seat
UPDATE: Still Undecided as of Nov 9

Back over in the House, former Republican Congressman David Valadao is challenging incumbent TJ Cox (D-Calif.) in a rematch from 2018. Recall that it was the 2018 races that resulted in the flip of the U.S. House to Democratic control. Valadao lost the relatively conservative central California House seat by fewer than 900 votes.

Valadao is a former dairy farmer and is viewed as a well-liked, energetic voice on ag issues, although Cox has certainly embraced agriculture issues as a critical part of his platform.

Regardless of what happens Nov. 3, members of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association should continue to press elected officials for policies that help American agriculture thrive.

Ray Starling was an advisor to President Trump on ag issues and served as chief of staff to Secretary Sonny Perdue. He will lead a virtual presentation at the annual business meeting and director elections on Wednesday focused on what issues shortline manufacturers should watch beyond this election cycle and COVID-19.