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At the Races: Walking and chewing

By Bridget Bowman, Simone Pathé and Stephanie Akin

Michigan Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens reminded a group of reporters yesterday, “It’s sort of the metaphor of walking and chewing gum at the same time that everybody likes to use around here.”

Yep, we’ve heard that one before. Voters are going to hear it, too.

By unveiling articles of impeachment on the same day as a trade deal known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and scheduling a vote today on a bill to lower prescription drug prices, Democrats previewed their 2020 message — that they can simultaneously conduct oversight of President Donald Trump and move forward on policy.

The second part of that equation is especially important for lawmakers like Stevens, who are running for reelection in districts that Trump won in 2016. Stevens and more than two dozen other Democrats have been facing Republican ads accusing them of being completely consumed with impeachment.

The challenge for these Democrats will be whether voters hear what else they’re working on in an environment in which the presidential race is expected to drive the narrative on the campaign trail. As one Democratic strategist put it yesterday, “In 85 percent of House races, it’s not about you, it’s about what people think about the president.”

Starting gate

See you in court: More than in previous election cycles, national Democratic groups are making litigation over election and voting laws a key part of their 2020 strategy. The multimillion-dollar investment from the campaign committees and outside groups is a reflection of just how important they think turning out minority and young voters will be to holding the House and winning the Senate and presidency next year.

Now what? In September, seven freshman Democrats who flipped House seats in 2018 co-authored an op-ed column that helped launch the impeachment inquiry by signaling that moderates in competitive races might back an investigation. Given their op-ed, it would be surprising if any of them don’t ultimately support impeachment, and today Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia said she’s on board. “Based off of what I know about what’s transpired … I certainly am going to vote yes,” she told reporters. As of Wednesday, her fellow writers were not saying one way or the other

The large animal veterinarian in the room: Republicans lost another House member to retirement this week when Florida Rep. Ted Yoho — a large animal veterinarian who memorably said that nothing in Congress could intimidate him after a career spent squeezing Rottweiler anal glands —decided to go back to the Rottweilers. Trump won Yoho’s 3rd District by 16 points in 2016.

An impeachment antidote: As the nation’s capital is consumed by impeachment, the DNC and state Democratic parties are trying to change the conversation on the campaign trail to health care. The effort is tied to an expected vote this week on a Democratic prescription drug proposal. CQ Roll Call’s Andrew Siddons has a good primer on their effort.

Forever toxic? A certain class of chemicals found in many household goods and linked to cancer have been detected in every state, including on many military bases. CQ Roll Call’s Ben Hulac explains why the fight to regulate PFAS, or “forever chemicals” as they’re known because of their endurance in the water table, could be coming to a Senate race near you in 2020.


A new squad in town? Four female Republican candidates — Jessica Taylor in Alabama’s 2nd District, Nancy Mace in South Carolina’s 1st, Beth Van Duyne in Texas’ 24th and Michelle Fischbach in Minnesota’s 7th — have joined together to form the “Conservative Squad.” They’ll raise money for each other — and a percentage of the funds will go toward the GOP nominees challenging Democratic “squad” members Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez in New York, Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Ilhan Omar in Minnesota and Ayanna S. Pressley in Massachusetts. But on a call with reporters Thursday, none of the four conservative women (three of whom are in competitive districts) answered why they’d be sending money to GOP candidates in safe Democratic seats.

Hey Big Spender: In 2018, Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC coordinated with other outside groups and spent more than $100 million. He’s already spent that much on ads for his presidential campaign in less than a month. When Bloomberg launched his campaign, some Democratic strategists said they weren’t overly concerned his money would disappear from down-ballot races, and Bloomberg backed up those predictions this week. He donated $10 million to House Majority PAC to help vulnerable Democrats combat an onslaught of impeachment-related ads from Republican groups.

All in the family: The late President George H. W. Bush’s grandson Pierce Bush is running in the crowded open-seat race in Texas’ 22nd District near Houston. That Republican primary also features a sheriff who once arrested a woman for having a profane bumper sticker about Trump. Elsewhere in Texas, former chief White House physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, filed to run for Congress in an open-seat race in Texas’ 13th District. Trump nominated Jackson to be the Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018, but Jackson withdrew his nomination amid misconduct allegations, which he denied. (Roll Call readers also got a heads up last month that he was thinking about running.)

Rematch in Virginia?Elaine Luria, one of seven moderate House Democrats who helped push leadership toward impeaching Trump, was fundraising this week off reports that her stance on the issue had earned her a rematch with former GOP Rep. Scott Taylor, who’d been running for Senate. Luria beat the one-term incumbent by about 4,000 votes in the Trump +3 district. Virginia Republican operatives told CQ Roll Call this week they thought Taylor could do better in 2020, when he could campaign off impeachment and he won’t have the burden of an election fraud controversy hanging over his head (one of his 2018 campaign staffers was indicted in May). Taylor, so far, is not commenting, although his campaign said it had received an “outpouring of calls” urging him to enter the race after Democrats said they would move forward on impeachment last week.

Back in Session(s): Former Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions released an internal poll Tuesday showing him with a sizable lead in the Republican primary for his old seat. Forty-four percent of those surveyed backed Sessions, 21 percent backed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, and 14 percent backed GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne. Byrne dismissed the survey when asked about it on Tuesday, telling CQ Roll Call that every other poll he’s seen has shown a much closer race. Another interesting stat from the poll: 71 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Sessions, which is notable given Trump’s public attacks on his former attorney general. OnMesssage Inc. conducted the poll, which surveyed 700 likely Republican voters from Dec. 3-5 and had a 3.7 percentage point margin of error.

Hawkeye headache: GOP Sen. Joni Ernst is facing questions following an AP report that her campaign may have coordinated with a Republican outside group. Ernst’s campaign is dismissing the questions by calling the report “fake news.” But in the wake of the AP report, Iowa Starting Line reported that Ernst’s 2014 campaign had to pay a fine for illegal campaign donations. To catch up on how she’s approaching her race, check out this dispatch from Iowa, while this story breaks down the race on the Democratic side to take her on.

Dead letter office?: Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins, under investigation for claiming a UPS store as his home address on election documents, has filed a new voter registration listing his residence as an apartment complex two miles away. The change comes after Watkins cast a November ballot using the UPS store address registration, which is in a different city council district than the apartment complex, KSHB Kansas City reported. Watkins’ campaign, in a statement to the station, attributed the whole thing to an inadvertent mistake.

Taking sides: Speaker Nancy Pelosi has waded into the race to replace former California Rep. Katie Hill in the 25th District this week, throwing her support to Assemblywoman Christy Smith over liberal talk show host Cenk Uygur.

What we’re reading

For a laugh: Our Stu Rothenberg has compiled his annual best and worst awards for 2019, which he calls “a pretty awful year.” It’s not all bad, though, unless you’re one of his finalists for worst coiff of the year.

What they’re watching: Morning Consult has an interesting breakdown of cable news network popularity by congressional district (spoiler alert: Fox News has an edge).

All about the ’burbs: Trump continues to be a problem for Republicans in the suburbs, and the LA Times dives into what that could mean for his reelection.

A room of one’s own: Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is the only voting GOP woman of color in the House, and she’s already a top Democratic target in 2020. “I’m a woman of color with young children. Like what? What is your beef with me anyway? Because this is exactly what you say you want in these districts,” she told Politico in a colorful profile from Vancouver. The question for Republicans next year isn’t just whether Herrera-Beutler survives, but whether they can elect more women like her.

Proofing primary petitions in the Prairie State: Illinois candidates and their supporters have started the state’s regular tradition of trying to knock opponents from the March primary ballot. Crain’s has a rundown of which candidates are in the crosshairs.

Why is Tucker Carlson picking on Ben Sasse? A Vox interview with Tucker Carlson explored why the Fox News host ripped into Republican mega-donor Paul Singer during a show last week that also targeted Nebraska GOP Sen. (and onetime Trump critic) Ben Sasse

The count: 206

That’s how many people filed to run for the House in Texas’ 36 congressional districts, including incumbents and challengers — 113 Republicans and 93 Democrats. Texas Democrats noted it’s the second time in modern history that they’ve fielded candidates in every district (the first time was the 2018 cycle). Texas is expected to be a House battleground in 2020 with Republicans targeting two seats and Democrats targeting six. Republicans currently have a 23-13 edge in the delegation.

Nathan’s notes

If you were befuddled by the redrawing of House districts in Pennsylvania last year and North Carolina this year, just wait. The mid-cycle redistricting confusion is a small preview of what’s to come after 2020, Nathan warns us. In the meantime, Nathan has ratings changes for the races in the new districts in North Carolina, where things are looking up for Democrats.

Candidate confessions

Kendall Qualls, the Republican running to unseat Minnesota freshman Democrat Dean Phillips, has a bold prediction for 2020: Trump will earn more support from black voters than any other Republican presidential candidate since Dwight Eisenhower.

Qualls, who is African American, admits that Trump has said some insensitive things, but he doesn’t think the president is a racist and sees black voters enjoying a better quality of life under this president. The Army veteran and medtech executive told CQ Roll Call he voted for Trump — although the district he moved to in 2016 did not — and he does not expect it to vote for him in 2020. That could make it tough for this first-time candidate to win in the affluent suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Reader’s race

Monday’s filing deadline in Texas finally put an end to speculation that former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke would run for Senate again after dropping out of the presidential race. Twelve Democrats filed to take on GOP Sen. John Cornyn. Democrats have been bullish that Cornyn is vulnerable, even though Trump won the state by 9 points in 2016 and a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in Texas since 1988. They cite O’Rourke’s close race against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz as evidence the state is shifting to the left, but Republicans counter that the close race was due to O’Rourke’s unique candidacy (he raised a record $80 million).

In the crowded Democratic primary, five candidates are considered the top contenders: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2018; state Sen. Royce West; Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards; progressive activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and former Rep. Chris Bell, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006. Hegar has been the top fundraiser so far, and she told reporters on Monday that she is “hyper-localizing” the race. Also on Monday, Tzintzún Ramirez announced an endorsement from O’Rourke’s Senate campaign manager, Jody Casey, and 20 other O’Rourke campaign staffers.

The challenge for all of these Democrats will be boosting their name ID ahead of the March 3 primary, which is an expensive undertaking in such a large state. Democrats aren’t expecting any of the candidates to get more than 50 percent of the primary vote, meaning the top two vote-getters would advance to a May 26 runoff. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican. Want an even deeper dive on the race? Check out this story.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about Minnesota’s 7th District or Nebraska’s 2nd District. Email us at

Coming up

The next Democratic presidential primary debate is a week from today, on Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico. According to Politico, here’s who has qualified: Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Photo finish

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 9: Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., appears on a tv monitor in the Rayburn subway as he calls for a recess in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler appears on a TV monitor above the Rayburn subway Monday during an impeachment hearing. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)


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