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At the Races: COVID gridlock

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.

Vulnerable Senate Republicans hoping to get a boost from their work helping constituents weather the economic fallout from the pandemic were sweating this week as negotiations on the latest relief package got off to a slow and contentious start. A federal moratorium on evictions expired last week, the weekly $600 federal boost to unemployment checks is set to expire Friday, and only 96 days remain until the election. 

But it’s not clear when, or if, the next package will be signed into a law or what it might look like. The federal government’s response to the health crisis is already affecting House and Senate races. President Donald Trump’s poll numbers in competitive states and districts across the country have dropped, largely due to the pandemic. 

Republicans say the current political environment is a low point. That is a particular problem for GOP senators, who are defending their majority on an increasingly expanding battlefield. The GOP conference is divided over its next move as the coronavirus continues to spread. But it did release a relief proposal this week in the form of eight bills, some of which had vulnerable incumbents’ names attached. 

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who is one of the most vulnerable Republicans, co-sponsored a bill with Florida’s Marco Rubio that would provide another round of business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. She has already been touting the program on the airwaves back home. South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Montana’s Steve Daines, who are both in competitive races, teamed up with North Carolina Sen. Richard M. Burr on a bill that would ensure personal protective equipment is made domestically to limit reliance on Chinese manufacturing.  

Texas Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill that would boost liability protections for businesses, health care workers and schools. Cornyn and a handful of other vulnerable senators, including Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, also co-sponsored a proposal from Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney that would create a process to address federal trust funds, which are at greater risk of drying up due to pandemic-related spending. These vulnerable lawmakers will be key players to watch as negotiations continue.

Starting gate

About that tweet: The president can ask whether the election should be delayed, but the answer from experts is clear: He can’t do it on his own, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reports.

Pay up:  The House Ethics Committee recommended Thursday that Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert pay $50,000 for campaign finance violations, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. Democrats will pick Schweikert’s opponent in next week’s primary, where Hiral Tipirneni, who unsuccessfully ran in a neighboring district in 2018, is considered the front-runner. 

#TN01: Trump has not endorsed anyone seeking to fill the East Tennessee seat of retiring GOP Rep. Phil Roe, but you wouldn’t know that from the ads candidates are running that tout their devotion to the president ahead of next week’s primary, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi reports.

Minnesota microcosm: CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales looks at Minnesota’s 2nd District, which is one of the few places where the GOP challenger has outraised the Democratic incumbent. But it may not be enough to help Republicans flip the seat. 

Data download: CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam delves into the Republican National Ccommittee’s data operation, which Republicans claim is superior to the Democrats’.

“It would hurt Florida”: Though caveated, that was part of Rubio’s answer when asked about Trump’s order that undocumented immigrants not be included when the 2020 census count is carved up into 435 House districts in the 50 states. Also standing to lose (if the order stands): Texas and California, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports.

FUNdraising: Texas Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey’s leadership PAC spent more than $10,000 on baseball tickets, spas and luxury hotels, Marquette reports.


Mark your calendars: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called for a special election on Tuesday, Sept. 29, to fill the state’s deep-blue 5th District seat following the death of Rep. John Lewis.

On the airwaves: The anti-Trump Lincoln Project launched new TV ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators in Maine, Montana and Alaska.

Thanks, but no thanks: Iowa Democrat JD Scholten’s campaign announced Wednesday that he “is rejecting assistance and funds from the DCCC,” noting he didn’t get any help from the committee in his close race against GOP Rep. Steve King in 2018. This year, he faces Republican Randy Feenstra, who beat King in a primary, and it’s a much tougher race for Scholten without King on the ballot. In a deep-red district like Iowa’s 4th, it probably doesn’t hurt Scholten to distance himself from the national party. 

Changing of the guard: On this week’s Political Theater podcast, CQ Roll Call deputy editor Jason Dick and reporter Clyde McGrady talk about New York Democrat Jamaal Bowman continuing a trend started two years ago by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

#NV03: Republican former wrestler Dan Rodimer’s bid to challenge freshman Nevada Democrat Susie Lee got more complicated this week after The Associated Press reported that his now-wife called 911 in 2018 “alleging domestic violence and that Rodimer had stolen guns and jewelry belonging to her.”  DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the NRCC to disavow Rodimer.

Part of the club: The anti-tax Club for Growth announced Tuesday it was endorsing Republican gun rights activist Lauren Boebert, who upset GOP Rep. Scott Tipton in a primary last month. Watch to see if the club actually spends to support Boebert, who has been associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory (as ATR readers know, Boebert has said she is “not a follower”).

Pandemic pinot? Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, invited would-be donors this week to an early October wine country fundraiser. Individuals should pony up $2,800 to attend, while political action committee attendees are asked to write $5,000 checks for the Sonoma County gathering planned for Oct. 6-8 at the Hotel Healdsburg.

Corporate PACs pledge: In recent years, it’s the candidates who have rejected donations from corporate PACs, but in the case of Rep. Jim Hagedorn, it’s the PACs that plan to eschew the Minnesota Republican because of his critical comments about Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Intel Corp. has asked for a refund of a 2018 donation, and both the tech company and UnitedHealth Group say they won’t help out his campaign in the future, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.   

Ad wars: Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue’s campaign deleted a Facebook fundraising ad featuring a picture of Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff distorted to make his nose look larger. Ossoff, who is Jewish, called the ad blatantly anti-Semitic. The dispute came during an eventful week for Ossoff, who announced Monday that he had tested negative for COVID-19 after his wife, an obstetrician he has featured in campaign ads, contracted the virus.

On the attack: Stephanie Bice and Terry Neese, the GOP candidates in an Aug. 25 primary runoff to challenge vulnerable Democrat Kendra Horn in Oklahoma’s 5th District, sniped at each other over who had the strongest support from Vice President Mike Pence.

Protest vote: Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell compared the federal response to protests in Portland to violent crackdowns in Venezuela under President Nicolás Maduro. Mucarsel-Powell, whose family immigrated from Ecuador, faces a tight race in the 26th District with likely GOP opponent, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is Cuban American. Both are courting votes from South Florida Latinos, many of whom have strong feelings about oppressive regimes in their countries of origin.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Focusing on emails he got from candidates in New York and Georgia that each had the subject line, “Stop the Mob NOW,” Stu Rothenberg sees the House GOP embracing Trump’s campaign strategy of motivating supporters to the point of hysteria about Democrats.

GOP sweating in summer: Politico dives into the battle for the House, and how Republicans may be in a position to lose seats in November.

Record breakers: The congressional filing deadline in Louisiana passed last week, and as Bloomberg Government reports, a record number of female House candidates are running across the country. And NBC News digs into the record number of Black women running for Congress.

Taking sides: The Boston Globe wades into the Democratic Senate primary in Massachusetts, endorsing incumbent Edward J. Markey over challenger Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III ahead of the Sept. 1 contest. That endorsement came shortly after the paper published a story about how Markey spends less time in the Bay State than the rest of the congressional delegation. “If the senator from Malden spends a lot of time in Washington, one reason might be that he’s been busy getting legislative proposals passed to improve people’s lives,” the Globe’s editorial board wrote. Meanwhile, the Markey campaign is out with a new ad, featuring Ocasio-Cortez.

Montana matters: The New York Times looks at the Montana Senate race as a test case for Democrats in their quest to win control of the chamber. 

The count: 19

That’s how many candidates are on the ballot in next week’s primary in Washington’s 10th District, an open-seat race since Democratic Rep. Denny Heck is running for lieutenant governor. Washington has a top-two primary system, so candidates from all parties compete on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to November. Inside Elections rates the race for the 10th District, which includes Olympia, Solid Democratic, and the contest has attracted more than $777,000 in outside spending, according to the FEC. The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ PAC has spent to bolster state Rep. Beth Doglio, who has been endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has spent to support former state Rep. Kristine Reeves, who is Black and Latina.

Nathan’s notes

In an analysis of analyses, Nathan writes that politicians often draw the wrong lessons from elections. But their takeaways, while flawed, also predict how they’ll approach the next election.

Candidate confessions

Oh sure, blame it on the pooch. 

“My dog … snuck in the room at the beginning of the call, so if you heard any weird sounds, that wasn’t me. I promise,” joked Christina Hagan, a Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio’s 13th District. (At the Races didn’t hear any strange noises.)

“She’s 9 years old, and she’s trying to creep in,” the candidate added during a Zoom call with donors and reporters organized last week by the political action committee of New  York Rep. Elise Stefanik. 

Hagan called her race one of the “most exciting” in the Buckeye State and noted that her campaign had drawn fans from inside and outside the district. 

“I’ve received support from Busch and Coors — and I don’t drink beer,” she said. “My husband does, but I don’t. So we’re getting support from all walks of life.”

Reader’s race: MT-AL

Montana hasn’t sent a Democrat to the House since the mid-1990s, and the Treasure State’s most recent woman to serve in the congressional delegation left office on Jan. 3, 1943. Kathleen Williams is trying to end both of those streaks. 

The Democrat, who’s seeking a do-over of her unsuccessful campaign for the same at-large seat in 2018, has posted strong fundraising numbers and had an easier primary than two years ago. Williams lost to GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, who is now running for governor, by more than 23,000 votes in 2018. This time, she faces Republican Matt Rosendale, who also lost in 2018 in a failed bid for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s seat. 

Recent polling shows a competitive House race in a state that backed President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. A July survey, for example, by the Global Strategy Group found a tied race. Williams reported more than $1.6 million in the bank as of June 30, while Rosendale held about $1.2 million. The state is already flooded with political ads, though mostly aimed at the Toss-up Senate race between Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republican incumbent Steve Daines. 

The DCCC has added Williams, whose dominant campaign messaging focuses on health care, to its Red to Blue program for strong recruits but hasn’t reserved any independent expenditures yet. The Club for Growth spent on behalf of Rosendale during his primary, and the hard-line conservative House Freedom Fund recently disclosed small investments in emails and phone calls to boost the Republican. 

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Florida’s 26th District or for Nebraska’s 2nd. Email us at

Coming up

We’re gearing up for primaries on Tuesday in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington and on Thursday in Tennessee.

Photo finish

Making his pitch: Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall was on the mound in 2018 for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which Republicans lost to Democrats, 21-5. He’s hoping for a better result in his bid for the GOP Senate nomination in Tuesday’s primary (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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