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At the Races: New year, same politics

By Bridget Bowman, Stephanie Akin and Simone Pathé 

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Happy New Year! 2019 may have already felt like an election year, but with the start of 2020, we’re officially in the on-year. While the race for the White House will dominate much of the news, the fight for the House and Senate will be just as important — and in some corners of the country, even more interesting.

Congressional campaigns will test the extent to which Americans have become straight-party voters and likely highlight the partisan realignment happening along urban and rural lines. Control of Congress in 2021 will go a long way toward determining how much the president, whether it’s Donald Trump or someone else, can get done.

Having won a historic majority in the 2018 midterms, Democrats are on defense in the House. Republicans got a boost last month from New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched from the Democrats to the GOP, but they still need a net gain of 18 seats to win back control of the House. Their efforts will begin with the 30 districts Trump won in 2016 that are currently held by Democrats. Nearly all of those Democrats voted to impeach the president at the end of last year, so we’ll be closely watching whether that hurts them with their constituents.

But while they defend their 2018 gains, Democrats are also trying to expand their House majority. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales currently projects that three seats will flip party control in 2020, all in favor of Democrats: Texas’ 23rd District, where GOP Rep. Will Hurd is retiring, and North Carolina’s 2nd and 6th districts, where court-mandated redistricting made the seats more Democratic.

Republicans are on defense in the Senate, where they enjoy a 53-47 majority. Democrats are targeting two GOP senators who represent states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 (Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine), as well as a handful of incumbents in states Trump narrowly carried. To win the chamber, Democrats need a net gain of three seats if they win the White House (because the vice president would break ties) or four seats if they lose the presidency. Republicans also have several offensive targets, though, with two Democrats — Alabama’s Doug Jones and Michigan’s Gary Peters — up for reelection in Trump states. Jones is CQ Roll Call’s most vulnerable senator in 2020.

A few more things we’ll be watching this year: Will down-ballot candidates be able to distinguish themselves from the presidential nominees? Can more Republican women make it through congressional primaries? What new ways will campaigns use to target and turn out the voters they want? Keep reading CQ Roll Call for the latest.

Starting gate

Exit, stage right: So far 27 House lawmakers have announced their retirements (meaning they are not running for reelection or seeking another office), which is already above the average for recent election cycles, and we’re only halfway through the 2020 cycle. Three times as many Republicans are heading for the exits as Democrats, although the majority of them are not in competitive seats.

Not ‘Biden’ her time anymore: After saying over the summer that she would eventually take sides in the presidential primary, Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer announced Thursday that she is endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden. Finkenauer worked for Biden’s 2008 campaign, and he traveled to Cedar Rapids to hold a rally for her in 2018. The state’s other two Democratic members of Congress haven’t endorsed in the race.

And then there were 14: Julián Castro became the latest presidential contender to drop out of the Democratic primary, but that still leaves a crowded Democratic field. His timing is notable, with his announcement coming right after the fourth fundraising quarter ended on Dec. 31. Castro had been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate in Texas, but the filing deadline there has already passed.

Donor beware: If you subscribe to this newsletter, chances are you also receive emails from campaigns — such as those fundraising solicitations that clogged your inbox earlier this week ahead of the close of the final fundraising quarter of the year. Many of them claimed to offer “DOUBLE” or “TRIPLE” matches for each donation. But as we explained in 2017, those offers, while a powerful tactic, aren’t as good as they seem. It’s worth rereading ahead of another election year.


Down for the count: The Census Bureau’s annual population estimates released Monday show that California, Rhode Island, New Yor, and several other states may lose congressional seats after the next apportionment. That’s because, as CQ Roll Call’s Mike Macagnone reports, they either lost population or didn’t grow as fast as other states.

Taking a pass: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has decided against challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. “While taking on a career politician from the Washington swamp is a tall order, I am certain I would have won,” he tweeted on New Year’s Eve. Trump fired Lewandowski in June 2016, but the president implied last year he’d back his candidacy. That could have been helpful in the state’s GOP primary but could have backfired in the general election in the Granite State, which Trump narrowly lost in 2016. The New Hampshire Democratic Party has already run digital ads hitting Lewandowski for being a “shadow lobbyist.” Fourth quarter fundraising reports will tell us more about the GOP field here, but without a strong challenger, Shaheen doesn’t look to be in much trouble. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Democratic.

First day: Kelly Loeffler, Georgia’s newest senator, will be sworn in on Monday, when the Senate returns to work in Washington. GOP Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the seat vacated by departing Sen. Johnny Isakson last month. She’ll take over his seat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and will also serve on the Agriculture Committee and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Feel the Bern: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign released letters from three doctors Monday showing the 78-year-old in good health after suffering a heart attack last year. The Vermont senator’s health scare didn’t seem to put a damper on his fundraising this fall — his campaign announced it raised a whopping $34.5 million in the fourth quarter.

Show me the money: In other fundraising news, Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign announced that the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor raked in $24.7 million in the fourth quarter. The campaign did not release his cash-on-hand number, so it’s not clear how much money he has left. Trump’s campaign announced he raised $46 million in the last fundraising quarter and had $102.7 million on hand.

Who’s the chattiest? Over the last decade, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee spent 1,103 days giving House floor speeches — more than any other member, according to the C-SPAN archives. Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson followed with 959 days. Just looking at the 116th Congress and the senators who are running for president, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar dominated. She gave floor speeches on 20 days in 2019, followed by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet who gave speeches on nine days.

What we’re reading

Impeachment prospects Murk-y? Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski said recently that she was “disturbed” that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would coordinate with the White House on the impeachment trial, raising questions about whether she might break with her party and the president. Maine Republican Susan Collins, another senator to watch as impeachment unfolds, said recently that she would be open to hearing from new witnesses as part of the Senate trial.

Back home: Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, one of the 30 Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016, went back home and faced her constituents after voting to impeach the president in December. But The Associated Press reports that the divisive issue barely came up at Axne’s town hall meeting.

Hacked: Politico has a deep dive into the 2016 Russian hacking of a technology company that deals with voter registration and voter rolls, and how it raises questions about election security in 2020. For more on election security, the AP has a story on the state officials on the front lines, while The Washington Post details Georgia’s new voting machines.

In the courts: Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias and the Perkins Coie team have launched a newsletter called “On the Docket,” which focuses on voting rights, redistricting and election law litigation. Late last month, Democrats amended their previously filed lawsuit against Georgia’s absentee ballot process to include a new claim. Republicans, meanwhile, see this all as a “sue until blue” strategy.

Timing is everything: Some Republicans in Western North Carolina are angry at 11th District Rep. Mark Meadows for announcing his retirement (which he discussed with CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson) the day before the candidate filing deadline. The short notice, which precluded GOP state legislators from switching to run for the congressional seat, appears to have cleared the way for a friend of Meadows’ wife, Politico reports.

Wishing you ‘A New Year’: The Sunday comics got real about what’s to come in 2020. 

The count: 306

There are 306 days until the 2020 election on Nov. 3. To keep track of the latest campaign news as you anxiously await the next At the Races newsletter, keep an eye on the campaigns tab of Roll Call’s website.

Nathan’s notes

It’s a new year, but the fight for control of Congress hasn’t changed much since the start of 2019. Nathan breaks down the outlook for 2020 House and Senate races in his latest column.

Candidate confessions

Ross LaJeunesse, born and raised in Maine, didn’t move back to the state until May 2019. In between, he studied Arabic at Dartmouth, worked in the Senate, went to Harvard Law School, worked in government and tech in California and later for Google in Asia and Washington, D.C. But now he’s running to take on GOP Sen. Susan Collins — and if he won the Democratic nomination and defeated her (two very tall orders), he’d be the state’s first openly gay senator. Origins matter in Maine — anyone not born there is “from away” — and Collins, who was born in Caribou and lives in Bangor, has Maine bona fides in abundance. But LaJeunesse, who talks about an economic divide between “two Maines,” isn’t shying away from the fact that he’s been gone for 30 years. It’s part of his pitch about why he’s running — he had to leave Maine to get a job that would allow him to pay off his $70,0000 in student debt — and he’s using that story to connect with Mainers whose offspring have had to leave the state, too. (Maine has the oldest median population in the nation.)

He’s not running because of Collins’ vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which spurred liberals to raise nearly $4 million for her eventual opponent, but because of the things he says she hasn’t done for Maine or has done that have hurt the state (such as  voting for the GOP tax overhaul). LaJeunesse won’t attack Democratic front-runner Sara Gideon for only moving to Maine in 2004 and he hopes Mainers move away from the “us versus them” attitude toward people from out of state. At the same time, he admitted to CQ Roll Call he’s got two built-in advantages that may resonate with longtime Mainers: he was born in Biddeford, an old mill town, and has a French-Canadian last name. LaJeunesse means “youth.” LaJeunesse made news Thursday with allegations that Google forced him out as global head of international relations for his work to promote diversity inside the company and for trying to implement a human rights strategy.

Reader’s race: Maine Senate

Collins’ announcement that she’s running for reelection on the same day the House impeached Trump wasn’t without symbolism. Although her own news was overshadowed, it’s largely because of Trump that the four-term senator is facing the toughest political fight of her career, and how she votes in an impending Senate impeachment trial may go a long way toward shaping the race.

Her vote for Kavanaugh in 2018 riled up not just liberals who already didn’t like her, but moderate Republicans and independents who thought she was a check on the president. If she votes to acquit the president, who lost Maine by 3 points in 2016, she could further alienate those voters. But remember that Trump actually won Maine’s larger, more rural 2nd District (where Collins is from) by 11 points, so if she votes to convict him, she runs the risk of alienating his base. That didn’t work out so well for the last New England Republican senator who faced reelection in the Trump era. Announcing she wouldn’t vote for Trump in October 2016, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte lost her own reelection the following month.

Collins didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 either, and she’s bucked him more often than most members of her party. She’s sided with Trump on legislation about 90 percent of the time, compared with 97 percent for the average Senate Republican, according to CQ’s Vote Watch. Aside from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, that makes her the GOP senator least supportive of the president.

Gideon, the state House speaker, is running with the full support of national Democratic groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List. She outraised Collins in the third quarter of 2019, but Collins still had a healthy cash-on-hand advantage. Fourth-quarter numbers, which will be public in several weeks, will be another indicator of the energy around this race. We’ll be especially interested in looking at donations from in-state for each side. But regardless of who raises more, both sides are likely to have plenty of money, and outside groups on the right and left have already been spending on TV ads for and against Collins. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about Pennsylvania’s 1st District or California’s 10th District. Email us at

Coming up

Congress is coming back! The Senate returns on Monday, while the House is back on Tuesday. You can keep track of the House and Senate calendars here.

Photo finish

With NFL playoffs starting Saturday (one of your ATR authors will be cheering for the Bills, while another is rooting for the Chiefs), here’s a throwback to the Congressional Football Game, where members of Congress take on Capitol Police officers. Last September, lawmakers ended a 10-year drought and took home the trophy. 

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., carries the ball past Brendan Watson of the Capitol Police team as Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, trails behind during September’s annual Congressional Football Game. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., carries the ball past Brendan Watson of the Capitol Police team as Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, trails behind during September’s annual Congressional Football Game. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)


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