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At the Races: Quite a year already

By Stephanie Akin, Bridget Bowman 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.

In the week since this newsletter last published, President Donald Trump ordered the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, elected officials mostly responded in predictably partisan ways, Iran retaliated by striking two bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, Trump announced a deescalation of tensions (while announcing more sanctions against Iran), and some GOP senators balked at the intelligence briefing meant to justify the targeted killing of Soleimani. It’s been a week.

Today, the House is voting on a war powers resolution introduced by Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Shia militia expert who’s emerged as an influential player in her caucus in just her first year in Congress. (See impeachment.) We’ll be watching the upcoming war powers resolution votes in both chambers to see which vulnerable lawmakers break with their party or the president.

While the political dialogue has shifted somewhat over the past week — and senators running for president returned to the Capitol to talk Iran — it’s not immediately clear how much this momentous week will really affect this year’s race for the House and Senate.

Starting gate

Down-ballot drama: In 2019, House Democrats in competitive reelection races stayed out of the presidential primary. But now that it’s 2020, a few vulnerable lawmakers are backing Joe Biden, which could bolster the former vice president’s argument that he’s best positioned to help down-ballot Democrats. But the vulnerable Democrats could benefit from weighing in on the race too.

Back in town: “The impeachment trial isn’t the only thing that can lure Democratic presidential hopefuls off the campaign trail and back to the Senate,” writes CQ Roll Call’s senior Senate reporter Niels Lesniewski. Presidential candidates returned for an all-Senate briefing on Iran on Wednesday, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held a press conference today in the Capitol where he said he wouldn’t conduct foreign policy on Twitter.

Big-state energy: How much do states care about the census? A lot. Especially big states that don’t want to lose any representation (read: power). California has spent $180 million, while New York has shelled out $60 million on efforts to count their populations. “They are hoping to preserve or poach a seat at [a] state like Texas’ expense,” Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt told CQ Roll Call’s Mike Macagnone. As Macagnone explains, redistricting might also mean that hard-fought House victories in 2020 could be short-lived, since competitive districts with shrinking populations might disappear (cc: Anthony Brindisi).

He’s back! After rumors that he’d drop his Senate bid to run for his old House seat, former Virginia GOP Rep. Scott Taylor went and did just that this week, saying his Democratic successor Elaine Luria’s vote for impeachment was “the final straw.” Luria, a retired Navy commander, was one of seven Democratic freshmen who came out in support of opening an impeachment inquiry in late September, and she’s part of a close-knit group of female members with military or intelligence backgrounds, whom Taylor called “these girls” in a radio interview Monday. Luria shot back. But Taylor, who’s still facing questions about wrongdoing in his 2018 campaign, just handed these five Democrats — who have a joint fundraising committee — a new fundraising pitch. “We need to show Elaine and Abigail that we have their backs in the face of this sexist language,” Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s campaign later wrote in a fundraising blast.

Taking shots at gun control: GOP candidates running for swing seats in Virginia have seized on a movement to declare localities “sanctuaries” for Second Amendment rights. Such measures hold questionable legal weight, but gun rights advocates have pushed elected officials in over 100 counties, cities and towns to pass model “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions as a show of grassroots opposition to gun control measures promised by the state legislature, which Democrats took control of last year. The issue is also playing a role in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. All four Republicans vying to challenge Luria in the 2nd District showed up, for example, at a meeting in Virginia Beach on Monday to speak out in favor of a resolution the City Council passed. One even cried as he talked about protecting our “God-given right” to self-defense.

Taking a pass: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Senate GOP leadership this week that he’s not running for the open seat in Kansas. And although there’s still time for him to change his mind (again), his decision could help create the conditions for a Democrat to win in a Republican state. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the race’s rating from Solid Republican to Leans Republican.

Where have we heard that name before? The race for Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s southern New Jersey district got a little more crowded this week. Now that Van Drew is a Republican running with the president’s backing, Democrats are clamoring to take him on. Mental health advocate Amy Kennedy announced her bid this week with a video that highlighted Van Drew’s relationship with the president. (Kennedy married former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy in 2011, after he left Congress.) Several days later, House Oversight Committee investigator Will Cunningham, who lost to Van Drew in the 2018 primary, jumped in too. Montclair State University professor Brigid Callahan Harrison was already running.


A new ally: Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg picked up his first endorsement from a black member of Congress on Thursday. Maryland Rep. Anthony G. Brown, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a military veteran, plans to hit the trail for Buttigieg. Brown, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, comes from a safe Democratic district, but his backing could help Buttigieg, who’s struggled to connect with African American voters and has faced questions about his handling of racial issues in South Bend.

Office of the 50th Congressional District of California: That will be the new sign outside the office of GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who announced his resignation effective next week after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds. That sign won’t change until 2021, since Gov. Gavin Newsom decided not to call a special election to replace Hunter due to the timing of his resignation. So it will remain vacant until the winner of the regularly scheduled November 2020 election takes office.

On message: Although the chatter in Washington might be all about impeachment and Iran, Democrats are sticking to kitchen table issues on the airwaves. House Majority Forward released a national ad Wednesday that highlights Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “obstruction” and urges the Senate “to pass the House bills” — but it never mentions the impasse over impeachment trial procedures dominating attention on the Hill. The dark-money nonprofit also launched 17 ads thanking vulnerable members for voting for Democrats’ prescription drug bill. (Republicans had their own prescription drug bill message on the air this week, too, thanks to a $4 million campaign from American Action Network.) Meanwhile, in Maine, where GOP Sen. Susan Collins is facing pressure on impeachment, Majority Forward debuted a new ad attacking the senator over drug pricing. Separately, a local outside group, the 16 Counties Coalition, went after Collins on TV on Thursday for voting for the GOP tax overhaul.

Impeachment = $$$: The new Republican fundraising platform WinRed announced that $101 million has flowed to GOP candidates since it launched in June, with much of that coming after the House impeached Trump, according to The Associated Press. Fundraising pitches citing impeachment raised three times as much as other appeals, the report said. WinRed was launched to counter the Democratic online fundraising platform ActBlue, which announced Thursday that it helped raise $343 million for Democrats in the last fundraising quarter of 2019 and $1 billion overall for Democrats throughout the year.

Impeachment = $$$, Part 2: New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik raised an eye-popping $3.2 million from October through December and ended the quarter with $3.4 million in the bank, her campaign said. Her likely Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb, reported raising $2 million and had $2.2 million on hand. These are monster numbers for House candidates, especially in a race that is not even the most competitive in the state. Both women leveraged Stefanik’s high profile during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings to bring in campaign cash. Other GOP candidates also tied themselves to Stefanik in fundraising pitches, which was an early test for WinRed.

Running mate strategy?: Just days after ending his own presidential run, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro announced he would endorse Massachusetts Sen. Elizabath Warren in the primary.

Lipinski taking friendly fire: Democratic moderate Dan Lipinski, who is facing a tough House primary in Illinois, caught a lot of flak this week when he was one of only two Democrats (along with Minnesota’s Collin C. Peterson) to sign on to a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has not endorsed in the race, responded with a tweet Saturday that included a fundraising appeal for Marie Newman, one of his two challengers in the March 17 primary, and called for Lipinski to leave the party. On Wednesday, Politico’s Illinois Playbook reported some issues with a list of 28 mayors whom Lipinski’s campaign claimed had endorsed him. One of them, Jeff Walik, called the list “shady” and said he had twice told the campaign he was staying neutral. Another was no longer in office. And eight were Republicans — maybe not the best strategy when your biggest threat is from the left.

What we’re reading

Parting wisdom: What has retiring Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, learned about how to win elections in a competitive district? “It’s simple: Don’t be a misogynist, don’t be a homophobe, don’t be a whatever-phobe and show up,” he told The New York Times Magazine.

Cover story: Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told colleagues she’s taken to wearing a night guard because dealing with the White House makes her grind her teeth. But “Nervous Nancy” she is not, as Time’s Molly Ball details in this week’s magazine cover story. Among the non-dental details: The California Democrat orchestrated every element of the impeachment — down to the leather chairs her committee chairman sat in.

Last lap: Longtime Ohio Rep, Steve Chabot, whose 1st District is likely to be merged with the neighboring 2nd after the census, told The Columbus Dispatch he is considering retiring after his next term, assuming he wins one in November.

It’s complicated: To the short question of what has been done about election security since 2016, the Congressional Research Service prepared a 42-page answer. One reason for the length: “There is no single definition of ‘election security,’ nor is there necessarily agreement on which topics should or should not be included in the policy debate.”

AOC for Senate?: The New York magazine profile of Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez notes that she may be eyeing a run for Senate if her House seat disappears after redistricting.

Another suburban target for Dems in Kansas? The Ottawa Herald profiled Democratic Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who announced this week she will challenge Republican Steve Watkins in Kansas’ 2nd District, giving Democrats hope of flipping another (sort-of) suburban seat in the state. Watkins, who has so far led a troubled campaign, also faces a primary challenge from state Treasurer Jake LaTurner.

The count: 28

Twenty-two Republicans and six Democrats in the House have announced they’re not running for reelection or another office in 2020, for a total of 28 House retirements so far. Tennessee’s Phil Roe, the ranking member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, became the latest Republican to call it quits. His departure will open up a solid red seat that Trump carried by nearly 60 points, and the seat is already attracting wide interest.

Nathan’s notes

While Trump’s decision to order the killing of Soleimani was a big deal in geopolitics, it won’t necessarily be a big deal in domestic politics. “The media tends to treat every news event as a game-changer, when there should be the opposite instinct,” Nathan writes.

Candidate confessions

Republican Carl DeMaio is one of the top two GOP candidates running to replace Duncan Hunter (the other is former GOP Rep. Darrell Issa). DeMaio launched his campaign before Hunter decided to resign. A radio host and former San Diego city councilmember, DeMaio’s name might sound familiar to loyal CQ Roll Call readers because he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014 in a different district. DeMaio, who is openly gay, told us he is also on a mission to diversify the Republican Party. He has his own leadership PAC, Gen-Next GOP Leaders Fund, which so far has donated $2,500 to Republican Michelle Steel, who is running in California’s 48th District, according to

Reader’s race: PA-01

In 2018, just three of the 25 Republicans in House seats Hillary Clinton won  were able to win reelection. Pennsylvani’s Brian Fitzpatrick was one of them. Clinton would have won the 1st District in the northern Philadelphia suburbs by just 2 points had the state’s congressional map been in place in 2016 (remember the Keystone State got a new map before the 2018 election). Inside Elections rates the 1st District race Tilts Republican.

An unnamed Democratic strategist told The Philadelphia Inquirer back in November that the lack of a top-tier challenger against Fitzpatrick was the “the biggest recruiting failure in the country.” But Democrats may not need a big name here given the dynamics of the district. Fitzpatrick won reelection by just 2 points in 2018 when running against millionaire Scott Wallace, who was considered a flawed challenger. Democrats believe the district is moving in their direction. In 2019, Democrats won control of Bucks County government, which comprises most of the 1st District.

The deadline for fourth-quarter fundraising reports is Jan. 31, but so far the top Democratic fundraiser has been Debbie Wachspress, a Pennsbury School Board member and co-founder of Lower Bucks Indivisible, who had raised $216,000 as of Sept. 30. She was recently endorsed by Navy veteran Rachel Reddick, who ran unsuccessfully in the 1st District primary last year with the support of EMILY’s List. Also in the race are Judi Reiss, the chief judicial clerk of Bucks County, who has raised $111,000 so far. Ivyland Borough Council member Christina Finello and technology consultant Skylar Hurwitz are also running.

Fundraising will be critical for any Democrat running in the expensive Philadelphia media market and taking on Fitzpatrick, who had nearly $1.1 million on hand as of Sept. 30. Democrats will also have to chip away at Fitzpatrick’s moderate brand. A former FBI agent, he often touts his role in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. According to CQ Vote Studies, Fitzpatrick has supported Trump’s priorities 64 percent of the the time, the lowest score for a Republican (the average Republican has backed Trump’s priorities 94 percent of the time). Fitzpatrick did vote against impeaching Trump and was critical of the Democrat-led process. He is also well-known in the district, in part because he succeeded his older brother, Mike, in Congress. Mike Fitzpatrick died this week at the age of 56.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Democratic primary in Illinois’ 1st District or Texas’ 7th District. Email us at

Coming up

Democratic presidential hopefuls will once again take to the debate stage. CNN and The Des Moines Register are hosting the Jan. 14 debate in Iowa, and five candidates have qualified so far, according to NBC News: Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Photo finish

Yeah, holidays are over. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Yeah, holidays are over, folks. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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