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At the Races: Taking nothing for Granite

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Michael Bennet was settling back into his routine in the Senate this week after a disappointing showing in New Hampshire convinced him to call off his presidential bid. A growing pool of former candidates are cooling their presidential ambitions in that old saucer of the Senate. Including Bennet, there are now 10 sitting senators who have unsuccessfully run for president.

And on Thursday, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders, the three senators still in the race, popped in to cast their votes on a resolution to limit the president’s ability to attack Iran. (Warren will combine the D.C. trip with some campaigning across the river in Arlington, Virginia.)

Klobuchar, whose campaign was boosted by her third-place finish in New Hampshire, got plenty of attention from her colleagues in the Senate chamber, where she chatted with fellow Democrats Patty Murray and 2016 VP candidate Tim Kaine. Republicans Rand Paul, Pat Toomey, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee and Roger Wicker all crossed the aisle to pay their respects — a nice gesture for a candidate staking her race on her bipartisan appeal.

Meanwhile, the presidential surrogates on the House side tried to convince their colleagues to weigh in with endorsements, which carry a bit more weight in the absence of a clear front-runner in the early primaries.

Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, the first House member to endorse Pete Buttigieg, said he stood in the back of the chamber talking to everyone he could about the race during a vote series Wednesday. “Everyone is paying a lot more attention,” he said.

Starting gate

The endless race: The lack of a clear front-runner after Iowa and New Hampshire had Democratic lawmakers on the Hill bracing themselves for a drawn-out presidential primary. Bernie Sanders’ early success had some moderates concerned. Republican strategists were clearly enjoying the opportunity to slap a socialist stamp on swing-district Democrats who had said they would stand by the eventual nominee. Mike Bloomberg’s congressional supporters, meanwhile, said the confusion at the top of the ticket could create an opportunity for him.

Making his Mark: Retiring North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has backed the only woman in the 11-person GOP primary to replace him. In doing so, though, he passed over his longtime staffer, who says his former boss told him he was staying neutral.

Today’s the day: In-person early voting for North Carolina’s March 3 primaries starts today. In the state’s two new blue districts, black female candidates believe their identity and experience can help them overcome their financial disadvantage against white women who have run for federal office before. They’re frustrated that black women make up such a reliable part of the Democratic primary electorate but still struggle as candidates. “We are told to come to the polls but we are not supported on the ballot,” said Rhonda Foxx, who’s running in the 6th District.

Badgering voters: Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday for the primary in a special election to replace former Rep. Sean Duffy. The Wisconsin Republican, who is a staunch Trump ally, resigned in September. Given the 7th District’s Republican lean, outside groups have taken to the airwaves to bolster the GOP candidates: state Sen. Tom Tiffany and Army veteran Jason Church. And there’s an unusual alliance of groups supporting Tiffany.

Budgeting some time to campaign: President Donald Trump released his budget this week, which gave fresh ammunition to Democrats who will be focused on health care in 2020.

ICYMI

Trump’s stamp of approval: Trump endorsed seven Republican House candidates on Twitter on Thursday, most of whom also have the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump backed former Rep. Claudia Tenney and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis in New York, both of whom are challenging Democrats in districts he carried in 2016. He also backed Texans Beth Van Duyne and Wesley Hunt, who are running in competitive districts, as well as August Pfluger, who is seeking a solidly Republican open seat. Other presidential endorsees included Matt Rosendale, who’s running for the open at-large House seat in Montana, and Jay Obernolte, who’s running in California’s open 8th District. McCarthy has also endorsed all of the candidates except for Pfluger.

In other nominating news: Republicans in Virginia’s 5th district have set April 25 as the date for the convention where they will nominate their 2020 House candidate. Incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, who inflamed tensions with some local party leaders when he officiated a gay wedding last summer, faces a strong challenge from former Liberty University athletics director Robert Good.

About-face: The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List has endorsed appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who’s facing a challenge from a fellow Republican, Rep. Doug Collins. But just over two months ago, the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, called Loeffler “an unacceptable pick,” highlighting her “deep ties to the abortion industry” in a series of tweets. In backing Loeffler on Monday, Dannenfelser praised the senator for co-sponsoring “three major pro-life bills” during her first week in office. “She went through a rigorous, multi-faceted endorsement process and her responses were among some of the strongest we have ever seen,” Dannenfelser told CQ Roll Call in an email.

It’s official: ATR readers will know that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to set a special election to replace Republican former Rep. Chris Collins on April 28, the same day as the state’s presidential primary. This week Cuomo made it official. Republicans chose state Sen. Chris Jacobs as their nominee to take on Nate McMurray, the expected Democratic pick, who nearly defeated Collins in 2018.

The difference two years makes: Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally kicked off her Senate campaign Tuesday with a video titled “Inspire.” The video features Arizonans who have struggled with health care, addiction and sexual assault praising McSally, and also highlights the senator’s own struggles. It’s quite the shift from McSally’s 2018 Senate campaign, when she said in her launch video that she was “tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses” and that she “told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done.” She lost the 2018 race and was then appointed to the state’s other Senate seat. Some had criticized her 2018 campaign for not highlighting her own compelling biography. The softer tone of her 2020 video could be a sign that her campaign is taking a different approach this time.

What we’re reading

Attention pundits: Stu Rothernberg outlines three common mistakes in political handicapping.

Health care on the 2020 trail: CQ Roll Call’s health care reporter Mary Ellen McIntire dove into the presidential contenders’ health care plans. Turns out they differ on more than “Medicare for All.”

Reid speaks: Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Vice News that it’s time for the Iowa caucuses to go (his home state of Nevada’s caucuses are happening next Sunday). Reid said he has decided who he is going to vote for in the presidential primary, but he isn’t publicly endorsing anyone until after the caucuses.

Clyburn speaks: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking black congressman, has decided who will get his vote in the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina, his home state. But he hasn’t decided whether he will announce in advance what McClatchy called his potentially “game-changing” pick.

Prescription for reelection? Stat News dives into how Washington Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is campaigning on her support for a Democratic bill to address prescription drug prices.

The count: $21,587

That’s what Michigan Rep. John Moolenaar’s leadership PAC spent over three years at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vail, Colorado, our Chris Marquette reported.

Nathan’s notes

Patience is a virtue and the Iowa caucuses are a reminder we’re going to need a lot of it in 2020, Nathan L. Gonzales reminds us in his latest column. If 2018 is any indication, it may take days or even weeks to get a full picture of the 2020 election results. “The recent chaos surrounding the Iowa caucuses was just a taste of what’s to come,” he writes.

Candidate confessions

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison had some surprising praise for former GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond, who made history when he filibustered civil rights legislation in 1957, holding the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes. Harrison is challenging Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham this year, and he argued in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call that Thurmond was more responsive to his constituents than Graham is.

When Harrison’s mom was 18 and couldn’t find a job, someone told her to write to her senators, who were Thurmond and Democrat Fritz Hollings at the time. “She wrote to both of them, and they both responded. And ironically, it was Strom Thurmond’s office that got my mom the interview that eventually got her a job,” Harrison said.

“And I asked my mom, I said, ‘Mama, are you sure that’s Strom Thurmond?’” It was. “And she said, ‘But you know what, Jaime, they never asked me what race I was or what political party I belonged to. All they knew is that I was a constituent who needed help,” Harrison recalled.

Reader’s race: Maine’s 2nd District

When Maine Rep. Jared Golden defeated the last remaining New England Republican in the House in 2018, he made history. He was the first member of Congress to be elected by ranked-choice voting. And since coming to Congress, he’s continued to stand out. He was the only Democrat in the House to split his vote on articles of impeachment against the president. He then voted against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal. And he was one of only two House Democrats who didn’t support their party’s gun background check legislation last year.

He’s a House Democrat doing his own thing — and for good (political) reason. Maine’s 2nd District — the more sprawling, rural district of the state’s two — voted for Trump by 11 points in 2016. Because Maine splits its electoral votes, Trump’s success in the northern part of the state was enough to earn him one electoral vote, despite losing the state by 3 points. Given Trump’s popularity in this heavily white and aging district, Golden is a top Republican target in 2020.

But Republicans haven’t fielded top-tier candidates to take on the Marine veteran, who was a committee staffer for GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, who earned 35 percent of the vote in a three-way race against independent Sen. Angus King in 2018, had raised $509,000 by the end of 2019. He’s running with the backing of the Club for Growth. Former state Rep. Dale Crafts had raised $128,000 and had $134,000 in the bank. Adrienne Bennett, press secretary to former Gov. Paul LePage, had raised $48,000 and had $37,000 in the bank by the end of the year. She lived in the 1st District until registering to vote in Bangor last fall.

Golden has a big financial advantage — he raised $1.7 million in 2019 and started the new year with $1.3 million in the bank. But even if he’s bucked his party on some votes, he’s still a Democrat in a Trump district who voted to convict the president on charges of abuse of power, so he’ll need that money to fend off attacks. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Massachusetts Senate race or the race in Missouri’s 2nd District. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Tuesday is the filing deadline in Pennsylvania as well as the special election primary in Wisconsin’s 7th District. And we have (drumroll here) another Democratic presidential debate! This one is Wednesday in Nevada, co-hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and The Nevada Independent. Five candidates have qualified for the debate so far, according to The Washington Post: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren.

Photo finish

Back in the Senate again is Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet who dropped out of the presidential race after the polls closed in New Hampshire on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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