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At the Races: Trial vs. Trail

By Simone Pathé, Stephanie Akin and Bridget Bowman 

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.

The impeachment trial we’ve all been prognosticating about for weeks is finally here, in all its exhausting, late-night glory. And yet, on the campaign trail, the conversation remains largely unchanged. The biggest impact has been on senators running for president or facing competitive reelections back home. They have been sidelined in Washington, unable to attend fundraisers or even check their phones for hours on end.

Republicans continue to hammer vulnerable Democrats on impeachment, with the pro-Trump group America First Policies launching an attack ad against Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, the most vulnerable senator facing reelection in 2020. But Democrats still largely aren’t going there. While some national Democratic groups and even some Senate candidates are using impeachment in their fundraising emails, voters are likely to hear a lot more from them about prescription drug costs, Medicare and Social Security than impeachment, as the super PAC Priorities USA made clear in a memo this week.

One key state to watch: Maine, where a majority of likely voters thought President Donald Trump “abused” the power of his office, according to a poll conducted last week for Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC allied with Senate Democrats. More than 70 percent of Mainers wanted the Senate to “insist” on seeing fresh evidence and hearing from witnesses. GOP Sen. Susan Collins has already broken with her party on one vote this week — she sided with Democrats to allow for more time to respond to motions made during the trial. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to break with Democrats on the big vote, or that it would necessarily benefit her politically to do so. Like her GOP peers in Arizona and Colorado, she needs to show moderates that she’s still an independent thinker while not alienating Trump’s base. 

Starting gate

In the trial, off the trail: Senators running for president aren’t the only ones stuck in the chamber for the impeachment trial. So are vulnerable senators in both parties, whose campaigns have had to adjust to the proceedings, which keep these senators in the Capitol for hours on end.

#CA25: This cycle, congressional candidates will have to compete with the presidential race for attention, money and TV time. But candidates running to replace former California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill face an additional challenge: reminding people that there are two elections in the same congressional district on the same day as Super Tuesday. The potential for voter confusion is raising concerns, and Democrats are trying to figure out what to do about it.

2022 on the brain: Both parties are targeting six states this year because they want to control the redrawing of congressional maps following the 2020 census. CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone and Jacob Fischler detail the fight for control of state legislatures that will decide on redistricting in a handful of key states. 

Trackers gonna track: The DCCC cried foul over the NRCC’s use of trackers recently, filing a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Democrats argue that Republicans’ use of trackers in House hallways to record vulnerable Democrats violates ethics rules that bar official resources from being used for campaigns. Ethics experts told CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette that the DCCC may have a point.

Who’s that lady? A suburban mom named Stacy is getting a lot of attention for being upset about impeachment. But as we first noted last Friday, she seems to live in 11 different congressional districts. Now Jimmy Kimmel has picked up on her starring role in American Action Network’s ads, which are attacking House Democrats from Nevada to Maine. So just who are the people who appear in campaign ads — and how much do political groups have to identify them? Revisit our 2018 explainer.


Endorsements: Members of Congress continued to take sides in the presidential race. Joe Biden nabbed five more House endorsements: Alabama’s Terri A. Sewell, Florida’s Frederica Wilson and Alcee L. Hastings, Georgia’s Sanford D. Bishop and New Jersey’s Donald M. Payne Jr. (One bonus Biden endorsement that’s Congress-adjacent: New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s husband Bill Shaheen, a DNC member, backed the former VP). Three House lawmakers endorsed Mike Bloomberg: California’s Harley Rouda, Florida’s Stephanie Murphy and Illinois’ Bobby L. Rush. And leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus split over the more liberal candidates in the race. Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal endorsed Bernie Sanders and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin backed Elizabeth Warren.

Oh Kay: After taking a few years off from taking on sitting House Republicans, the conservative Club for Growth is taking aim at Texas GOP Rep. Kay Granger, Politico reported Thursday. The group is planning a TV, digital and mail campaign against the congresswoman, the top Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee. Granger faces former Colleyville City Councilmember Chris Putnam in the March 3 primary, and he’s been putting up a fight so far. The Texas Tribune has a good primer on the race.

GOP $$$: NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer recently lowered expectations for Republican fundraising. But some House Republicans have figured out how to raise eye-popping numbers, including two who have leveraged their national profiles. Texas Rep. Daniel Crenshaw’s campaign told the Houston Chronicle that the freshman lawmaker raised $1.6 million in the final fundraising quarter of 2019. And former House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes raised $2.1 million in the quarter, according to the Washington Examiner.

Jersey style: What was supposed to be one of New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer’s tame diner chats with constituents turned contentious this week, when a former state Assembly speaker confronted the congressman over impeachment.

Two-way race: Labor lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan dropped her primary bid in the Massachusetts Senate race, leaving Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III and incumbent Edward J. Markey in the Democratic race. 

Thanks, but no thanks: Utah Republican Thom Carter says he won’t run for the GOP nod to challenge freshman Democrat Ben McAdams in the state’s swingy 4th District. Carter, the executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, said national Republicans had been recruiting him amid concerns about the caliber of current candidates in the crowded primary.

Taking sides: Main Street Partnership PAC became the first national group to back one of Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King’s top primary challengers: state Sen. Randy Feenstra. King has been sidelined in the House due to racist comments, and Feenstra, the top GOP fundraiser so far, is one of five Republicans who have filed to challenge the nine-term congressman. Main Street Partnership PAC, which describes itself as supportive of the “governing” wing of the GOP, backed three other House candidates this week: Chele Farley in New York’s 18th District, Amanda Makki in Florida’s 13th and Sue Rezin in Illinois’ 14th.

What we’re reading

Iowa! (but not about the caucuses): Stu Rothenberg dives into Trump’s prospects of winning Iowa in 2020.

Iowa! (OK, this one’s about the caucuses): The Iowa caucuses are less than two weeks away, people! The Associated Press has a roundup of how presidential candidates (especially those stuck in D.C. for the impeachment trial) are deploying their surrogates throughout the state. We explained in December how being able to tap someone who knows how to make a political pitch to a crowd is one of the values of getting House and Senate members to endorse you.

#AZSEN: National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes that Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally’s approach to her 2020 race signals she hasn’t learned the lessons of her 2018 loss. “Her base-first approach to politics is a sign of weakness, for a candidate furiously trying to generate support in the worst possible way,” he writes.

OK, Bloomer: It’s no secret that Bloomberg has been blanketing the airwaves with ads for his presidential run. But his strategy could jack up ad prices for everyone else, Politico reports.

Rest your head: Mike Lindell has been a fixture on the Midwestern campaign trail for Trump and down-ballot Republicans over the past few years. Now the MyPillow founder “is becoming less coy about his political future” in Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor writes.

Tryin’ Ryan?: Ohio radio station WKSU takes a look at the 7-way GOP primary in the 13th District, currently occupied by failed 2020 presidential candidate Rep. Tim Ryan, and concludes the Democrat could be up against one of the toughest elections of his career.

Umm … ew: William Figlesthaler, who is vying for the GOP nomination for retiring Florida Rep. Francis Rooney’s seat, put his name on “Drain the Swamp” urinal screens at the 7,000-seat Hertz Arena. At least he didn’t use his picture.

The count: 8,820

That’s the number of bills and joint resolutions lawmakers introduced in 2019 — 23 percent more than in 2017, the first year of the previous Congress. That show of initiative might be surprising given how little actually becomes law, but as CQ Roll Call’s Mike Teitelbaum explains, there can be other incentives to introducing legislation, especially for House freshmen.

Nathan’s notes

Was Hillary Clinton a terrible candidate? That’s the question Nathan L. Gonzales tries to answer with the “Vote Above Replacement” metric developed for Inside Elections.

Candidate confessions

In California’s 25th District, Democrat Christy Smith is using the tagline, “For once in your life, vote twice!” to remind voters to vote in both the special election primary to replace former Rep. Katie Hill and the primary for a full term, which are both happening on March 3. Smith, a state assemblywoman, told CQ Roll Call in an interview that her finance director was initially joking around when she came up with the tagline. But Smith and her campaign decided it could resonate with voters. The slogan is about “making sure that voters understand that it is not only acceptable, but we’d really prefer that they do vote twice,” Smith said with a laugh.

Reader’s race: Montana Senate

Montana isn’t a competitive part of the Senate battlefield — yet. Inside Elections rates GOP Sen. Steve Daines’ reelection Solid Republican. But despite electing Trump by 20 points in 2016, Montanans have a history of splitting their tickets. The same year they backed Trump, they reelected Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock by nearly 4 points. Two years later, they reelected Democratic Sen. Jon Tester by nearly 4 points — the first time he won with more than 50 percent of the vote. Democrats also contested the at-large House seat. So even though Trump will almost certainly again carry Montana by double digits this year, Democrats haven’t given up on the 2020 Senate race.

All eyes remain on Bullock, who dropped his presidential bid in December and has repeatedly said he won’t run for Senate. But there’s still time. The filing deadline is March 9, about a week after the state party’s big Democratic dinner, where Bullock will likely feel some heat to run. If he stays out, Cora Neumann — one of several Democrats already in the race — could solidify party support in the June 2 primary. Neuman, who has a Ph.D. in public health and worked with the Global First Ladies Alliance and the State Department’s Economic Bureau, hasn’t yet filed numbers with the Federal Election Commission, but her campaign announced earlier this month it raised more than $460,000 between October and Dec. 31. Daines starts with an edge, though, not the least of which is financial: He had $4.2 million in the bank at the end of September.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Arizona Senate race or the South Carolina Senate race. Email us at

Coming up

Updated Jan. 24 | CNN has cancelled a series of town halls with Democratic presidential candidates that had been planned for next week because of the ongoing impeachment trial. The network said it will be working to reschedule. Plans had called for programs featuring Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer on Tuesday and Biden, Warren and Amy Klobuchar on Wednesday.

Photo finish

The New York Times editorial board surprised this week with not one but TWO endorsements in the Democratic presidential primary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The New York Times editorial board surprised this week with not one but TWO endorsements in the Democratic presidential primary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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