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At the Races: No one’s calling you dumb

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.

No doubt they were settled before his near-disastrous performance in Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas (“None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told”), but former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign announced Thursday he had picked up three more endorsements from House Democrats — Reps. Nita Lowey of New York, Pete Aguilar of California and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.

That brings his congressional endorsement total to 16, ahead of everyone in the field except former Vice President Joe Biden, who has 48. Looking just at endorsements since the year began, Biden and Bloomberg are neck and neck, with Biden adding 17 to Bloomberg’s 16.

Does it matter? In 2016, when “super delegates” like members of Congress were guaranteed votes on the first convention ballot, endorsements gave their favored candidate a head start in the delegate count even before states held primaries that determined pledged delegates.

Those rules were changed, however, in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ complaints about Hillary Clinton getting an unfair advantage from the party establishment. So this year, super delegates only vote on the first ballot if a candidate has already locked up enough pledged delegates that their votes won’t matter in deciding the nomination.

There’s a chance, however, that Democrats will go into the July convention in Milwaukee with pledged delegates divided and no candidate with a majority.

In Wednesday’s debate, Sanders said whoever had the most pledged delegates going into the convention, even if he doesn’t have a majority, should get the nomination.

But if the Democrats follow the new rules, a convention where no one has a majority of pledged delegates would lead to a second (and and possible many subsequent) ballots where super delegates vote. And that would be where the endorsements from sitting lawmakers would be most valuable.

Not surprisingly, Bloomberg, Biden and everyone else on stage at the debate — former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Amy (“Are you calling me dumb?” Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren — said they want to follow the rules as they’re written.

Starting gate

Anti-abortion Democrats endangered?: Two of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in the House, Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Henry Cuellar of Texas, are facing competitive primaries next month. Both are being challenged by progressive women who are backed by EMILY’s List and other groups that support abortion rights. So what do these races mean for the future of anti-abortion Democrats in Congress?

Live, from Las Vegas! CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski traveled to Nevada last weekend to follow early voting in the state’s caucuses. There he found Democrats who view the Iowa caucus debacle as an opportunity for the Silver State to jump the line, and voters who were navigating the tricky caucus rules by choosing their second, third, fourth and fifth choice of candidates. And Niels found that, for a few hours, it was infrastructure week on the presidential campaign trail.

Culinary weighs in: Niels and CQ Roll Call health reporter Mary Ellen McIntire took a dive into how Culinary Workers Local 226, a political force in Nevada, sharply criticized Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, underscoring a key divide in the presidential race.

Making his case: Democratic Senate hopeful Jaime Harrison is warning his party not to forget about his home state of South Carolina after this month’s presidential primary. He said in a recent interview that the state shouldn’t be dismissed even though a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide election there since 2006.

WI07: State Sen. Tom Tiffany won the GOP primary in the special election to replace Republican former Rep. Sean Duffy. Tiffany is favored to win in the May 12 special election, although the district does have some Democratic DNA (this is former longtime Rep. Dave Obey’s seat). Tiffany garnered support from a unique coalition of outside groups, which spent on the primary.

Virginia is for (Warren) lovers: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren held a rally in northern Virginia last week after being back at the Capitol to vote on limiting President Donald Trump’s power to launch a war with Iran. Her supporters are holding out hope that Warren can rebound on Super Tuesday.

Yea vs. nay: Long before they clashed on the presidential campaign trail, Sanders and Klobuchar were taking different sides in the Senate. Both came to the Senate in 2007, but their divergent votes effectively cancelled each other out on a number of occasions. Niels dives into five instances where the pair diverged on votes on GOP amendments.


She’s back!: After an unsuccessful presidential campaign, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is jumping back into the political arena, launching a new partnership this week with End Citizens United, which backs candidates that support overhauling campaign finance laws. ECU is teaming up with Gillibrand’s PAC, Off the Sidelines, which supports women candidates. The partnership means the groups will raise money for “select candidates” and “provide strategic advice to campaigns,” according to a press release announcing the effort.

Endorsements — they’re not just for the presidential race: Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, weighed in on the crowded Texas Senate primary, backing Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in the crowded primary. The DSCC has endorsed MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018. Operatives watching the primary expect the March 3 primary to result in a May runoff.

Ch-ch-changes: There’s a wide gap between Sanders and Trump, but both are making appeals to populism. And in his Political Theater podcast, CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick talks with MIT economics professor Daron Acemoglu about how populism has shaped the country in the past.

Primary medding — Twitter edition: The National Republican Senatorial Committee, looking to create headaches for Democrats’ Senate primaries, recently took to social media to tie former Colorado state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to Sanders. Romanoff is running against DSCC-backed John Hickenlooper, the former governor, in the race to take on GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. Romanoff responded on Monday by saying the social media ploy led to his best fundraising day of the month. NRSC senior advisor Matt Whitlock sarcastically tweeted, “Oh man this is just blowing right up in our faces.”

Remind you of anyone? The Chicago Tribune gave political newcomer Robert Eammons Jr. a big Valentine’s Day gift on Friday with its endorsement of his primary challenge against House stalwart Bobby Rush. Rush, a 1960s civil rights leader, has been considered unbeatable for decades — he famously delivered Barack Obama his only electoral loss when Obama tried his own primary challenge in 2000. The Tribune endorsement dinged Rush, 73, for being too inaccessible to his constituents, a point Eammons, 27, has hammered in his campaign. But don’t write off Rush yet — guess who got the Tribune’s endorsement in 2000.

Buckeye blackeye?: Adam DiSabato, a former Ohio State wrestler, told MSNBC on Saturday that Rep. Jim Jordan had begged for help covering up other wrestlers’ allegations that Jordan knew that a former team doctor was sexually abusing team members. Jordan denounced the claim as a lie, a posture that worked fine for him when this scandal first erupted before his 2018 campaign.The continued drip-drip of allegations indicates that this one could be more of a problem for him in 2020. Jordan was made the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee this month and has increased his prominence as one of President Trump’s staunchest defenders during the House impeachment investigation.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg’s latest column breaks down how Bloomberg’s counter attacks to Trump could be just what Democrats are looking for.

Speaking of Bloomberg: CQ Roll Call’s health reporter Emily Kopp dives into Bloomberg’s new marijuana policy.

(Upstate) New York State of Mind: As one of two Republicans running for reelection in a district Hillary Clinton carried, New York GOP Rep. John Katko is a top Democratic target. But Democrats are still trying to pick their nominee, and one contender said he’s facing pressure to drop out of the race.

#ALSEN: The Washington Times takes a look at how Jeff Sessions’ history with Trump has become an issue in the Alabama Senate primary, which is coming up on March 3. And the Birmingham Times has a profile on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones.

The count: $70,500

That’s the amount Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz gave to other House Democrats and candidates from her leadership PAC in December alone, according to CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt. Why that matters is Wasserman Schultz is one of several veteran Appropriations Committee members angling to take over once chairwoman Nita Lowey retires after this session.

Nathan’s notes

Elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales had some thoughts on Wednesday night’s debate. One interesting point to keep in mind: More voters could see Bloomberg’s ads than the debate.

Candidate confessions

Tom Tiffany won the GOP primary to replace former Republican former Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, advancing to the May 12 special election. He grew up on a dairy farm and said in a primary debate on Wisconsin Public Radio that when he was around 8 or 9 years old, he would wake up at 6 a.m. to help feed the cows. Before he was elected to the state Legislature in 2010, Tiffany and his wife ran a river cruise business. Tiffany sold the business in 2013.

Reader’s race: Massachusetts Senate

If you asked Democrats a year ago who would be the next incumbent to “get Crowleyed,” few would have pointed to Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a one-time member of the House Progressive Caucus who has been the Senate’s leading advocate for the Green New Deal and a crusader for for gun control.

But that hasn’t stopped Rep. Joe Kennedy III from seizing on the impatience from the left flank of the party to make a run for Markey’s seat.

Kennedy, a scion of the Massachusetts political dynasty, is an imperfect standard-bearer for the progressive spirit embodied by activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who shook up long-established norms when she ousted the fourth-ranking House Democrat in the biggest upset of the 2018 midterms.

Kennedy is a white guy, the product of wealth and privilege. And while his congressional record checks a lot of boxes for socially progressive Democrats — working with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on a mental health bill, chairmanship of the Congressional Transgender Equality Task Force — he still hasn’t done much to claim that he is running to Markey’s left.

Kennedy’s campaign seems to be driven largely by an unwillingness to wait his turn in a heavily Democratic state full of incumbents who have been patiently building their records for years while they wait for a rare open seat. Nevertheless, he is giving Markey a lot to worry about.

Kennedy, who has a reputation as a prolific fundraiser, outraised Markey in the last three months of 2019 with a $2.4 million haul, compared to Markey’s $1.5 million. That gave him an overall financial advantage, with $5.5 million in cash on hand at the end of the year compared to Markey’s $4.5 million.

The telegenic, energetic young congressman — Kennedy is 40- — stands a better chance of tapping into the spirit driving the Democratic Party’s leftward shift than Markey, 73, who has always been more of a workhorse.

During their first televised debate on Tuesday night, Kennedy sought to focus on their differences, including Markey’s resistance to his call to ban outside money from the race, Markey’s “present” vote on on a resolution authorizing former President Barack Obama to use military force in Syria and Markey’s 2002 House vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

This race is still heating up and it has a long way to go — the primary isn’t until September.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about California’s 50th District race or the race in Texas’s 22nd District. Email us at

Coming up

Keep an eye out for on-the-ground reporting from Texas, where Bridget and photojournalist Bill Clark will be reporting on the upcoming primaries (and eating their fair share of WhattaBurger and brisket).

Photo finish

Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., waits to speak at a Mi Familia Vota community event in Las Vegas on Monday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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