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At the Races: Calamari vs. lobster. Discuss

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.

Republicans are making their pitch to voters at the GOP convention this week by highlighting President Donald Trump’s pre-pandemic economic achievements and trying to put a positive spin on his response to COVID-19, while also warning of impending doom should Democrats win in November. 

The battle for Congress largely took a back seat during the national party convention. Neither of the congressional campaign committee chairs was scheduled to speak, and just one vulnerable senator and a handful of candidates in competitive House races landed prime-time speaking slots. But as the convention grabbed headlines this week, several Republicans in down-ballot races sought to define their own races by launching new TV ads. 

The ads ranged from positive bio spots to attacks on Democratic incumbents. Some candidates in districts that Trump carried in 2016 embraced the “law and order” message that dominated the convention stage. In New York’s 22nd District, former Rep. Claudia Tenney launched an ad featuring a police officer who was supporting her campaign against Rep. Anthony Brindisi. In New York’s 11th, an ad from state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis accused her opponent, Rep. Max Rose, of supporting defunding the police. (He does not.) 

The question for Republicans is whether this law-and-order message will work, especially in swing states. Former Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Robert S. Walker, now a lobbyist, suggested it will. 

“The law-and-order issue is becoming vastly more important in this election,” he said Thursday during a Zoom panel organized by the Association of Former Members of Congress. He referenced the recent violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following protests over police shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back and paralyzing him. 

“I think a lot of suburban people are looking at places like Kenosha and saying, ‘It’s not just the big cities that are experiencing the problem,’” Walker said.

Starting gate

Alone in the spotlight: Iowa’s Joni Ernst was the only vulnerable Republican senator to make a prime-time appearance during the GOP convention this week, though other endangered senators and candidates made cameos in a pre-convention program. And at least one will be on hand at the White House tonight to watch Trump’s acceptance speech in person.

And little glow on House: House hopefuls in battleground districts didn’t get a lot of speaking time at the convention either, with just two — Utah’s Burgess Owens and Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell — scoring prime-time speaking spots. Instead of highlighting the GOP’s efforts to win back the House, the convention elevated candidates and lawmakers in competitive districts who have displayed allegiance to Trump. This was also the subject of this week’s Political Theater podcast with host Jason Dick speaking with our Bridget Bowman and Herb Jackson.

Trump thumper: With a speech at the GOP convention podium only adding to a growing national profile, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz tells CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson what he’s hoping to get out of it.

Charm City offensive: GOP nominee Kimberly Klacik lost a special election in Maryland’s 7th District to Kweisi Mfume by 48 points in April, but she got podium time to argue Black voters should break up with Democrats. 

#PA17: Both parties featured candidates from this battleground House district during their national conventions. 

Trumped up support?: Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who was absent from this week’s GOP convention, hasn’t said if she’ll vote for Trump in November. But the head of the Maine GOP said Collins and Trump “both support each other.”

DNC follow-up: Our CQ Roll Call team wrapped up the Democratic convention with a reality check on Joe Biden’s policy proposals. One thing was clear last week: Biden wants to appeal to disaffected Republicans. And GOP voters turned off by Trump are also an important voting bloc in the battle for Congress

Adding it up: CQ Roll Call’s Peter Cohn took a look at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s prediction last week that Biden and running mate Kamala Harris would expand Social Security, cancel student loan debt and expand access to child care, and hurdles that would get in the way of each.


Dem moves: The DCCC added two new candidates to its Red to Blue list for strong challengers: Ammar Campa-Najjar, who nearly unseated California Republican Duncan Hunter in 2018 and is running again for the 50th District, now open after Hunter’s resignation; and Nancy Goroff, who is taking on GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin in New York’s 1st. The committee also made another $3.8 million ad buy aimed at New Jersey’s 2nd District, Missouri’s 2nd, California’s 25th and Indiana’s 5th.

Really?: was back on our site again with analyses of the party conventions. Here’s their take from the Republican convention on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Also, the final Democratic analysis from last Thursday night.

Well-oiled machine: National Republicans have taken their first swipe at vulnerable Democrat Joe Cunningham in an ad that questions his commitment to protecting the South Carolina coast. Cunningham’s opposition to offshore drilling helped him flip the 1st District seat in 2018, and he is campaigning on it again. Daily Kos Elections reported that the ad is the NRCC’s first outside expenditure of the cycle. 

Off the Christmas card list: After he joined 26 other Republican former House members and senators in endorsing Biden, Arizona’s Jeff Flake said it was the only viable path for conservatism to survive.

Gone fishing — for votes: Kathleen Williams, the Democrat running for Montana’s at-large House seat against Republican Matt Rosendale, wants to make sure voters know she’s willing to “get her hands a little dirty to get the job done.” In a new ad, she cleans and fillets a fish. That’s not the only ad Big Sky Country voters are seeing. The DSCC has a new spot criticizing GOP Sen. Steve Daines, who is facing a tough challenge from the state’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, for taking campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

#TX23: Tony Gonzales, who was backed by Trump and retiring Republican incumbent Will Hurd, won the GOP runoff recount to take on Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas’ 23rd District. The race was also in the headlines after HuffPost reported that the NRCC effectively encouraged outside groups to attack Ortiz Jones’ sexuality, noting on a website featuring opposition research that she “and her female partner lived and worked near Washington, DC, not Texas” before she ran for Congress. For more on campaign committee websites that publish opposition research, check out Nathan’s column from June.

#FL18: Florida GOP Rep. Brain Mast is facing questions about 10-year old Facebook comments he exchanged with a friend who is now his campaign manager that referenced rape, and sex with 15-year-old girls. The posts surfaced in his competitive reelection bid against Democrat Pam Keith in the 18th District.

Plot twists: Former Nebraska Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford has vowed to launch a write-in Senate campaign if his party’s nominee, Chris Janicek, doesn’t get out of the race. The announcement came after Janicek said this week he would debate Republican incumbent Ben Sasse, in defiance of the Nebraska Democratic Party, which disavowed him after he sent lewd texts about his fundraising director. 

Get your guns: While the GOP warned at their convention that Democrats are coming for American’s guns, both Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican challenger Yvette Herrell launched ads in New Mexico’s targeted 2nd District touting their devotion to firearms.

What we’re reading

2016 throwback: Stu Rothenberg details the groups of voters who swayed the 2016 election as a reminder of who to watch with November just over two months away. 

Going after Trump’s base: Democrat Cal Cunningham, who is taking on North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, is working to woo Trump voters in the state, Morning Consult reports. 

Texas battleground: Vogue has a feature on some of the women running for Congress in Texas. And Politico reports that some of the most competitive Texas House races have also been among the districts hardest hit by COVID-19.  

Big-donor backlash: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s plans to endorse a slate of House Democratic freshmen is prompting a revolt among some of the group’s conservative backers, Politico reports. 

Virginia culture wars: The Washington Post takes a look at the culture wars brewing in Virginia’s 5th District where Democrats see an opening after GOP nominee Bob Good, a self-described biblical conservative, took aim at a state measure against LGBTQ discrimination. At the Races readers will remember that Good ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman at a nominating convention in June. Party leaders’ grievances with Riggleman included his decision to officiate a gay wedding last summer. 

Morse v. Neal: Alex Morse, the 31-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, didn’t just have his current job on the line after recent allegations that he made unwanted advances toward college students, writes The New York Times. The allegations also threatened to upend his primary challenge to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal

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The count: 10

That’s how many House districts Democrats are targeting in Texas alone. This week the DCCC added three more Texas Republicans to the list: Reps. Van Taylor in the 3rd District, Ron Wright in the 6th and Roger Williams in the 25th. The committee is also now targeting North Carolina’s 11th District, the seat formerly held by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Trump would have carried the district by 17 points under its newly drawn lines, but the upset GOP nominee, Madison Cawthorn, has faced some problematic headlines

Nathan’s notes

It’s another convention week and another double feature from Nathan L. Gonzales! First, Nathan writes in his latest look at the presidential race that if anyone needs a post-convention bounce, it’s Trump. And as convention speakers stoke 2024 speculation, Nathan notes that it’s way too early to know what the race for the White House will look like four years from now.

Candidate confessions

“Amazing Grace” plays in Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson’s recent TV ad in her race against freshman Democrat Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District. The spot ends with a reveal that the Republican is the one playing the violin. Hinson, who studied broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California, said the school’s orchestra also drew her to USC. And she’s not the only musical member of her family — her brother plays in the New York Philharmonic.

Reader’s race: MI-06

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, in seeking reelection for the 18th time, is a rare House GOP ex-committee chairman, term-limited by his party and now in the minority, who didn’t voluntarily head for the exits. Democrats believe they may have a shot at forcing him into retirement in November.

The DCCC added Upton’s opponent, state Rep. Jon Hoadley, to its Red to Blue program a month ago, offering additional resources to the Democratic challenger. Upton won reelection in 2018, of course, but by a slimmer margin — about 5 points — than in previous cycles. An internal poll from this spring had Hoadley up by 1 point in the mostly rural and suburban district that includes the city of Kalamazoo. Trump carried the district by 9 points in 2016.  

Hoadley’s message to voters includes criticizing Upton’s long history of corporate contributions, such as from the pharmaceutical industry — no surprise for the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel, which has jurisdiction over health care and other matters. When it comes to political money, the incumbent has the advantage, reporting nearly $1.4 million in the bank as of July 15 to Hoadley’s $418,000.

Knocking off Upton will be no easy task for Hoadley, who according to news reports deleted controversial blog posts about drug use and sexual matters. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race in New York’s 2nd District or New Hampshire’s 1st. Email us at

Coming up

Massachusetts will hold its much anticipated congressional primaries Tuesday, and we’ll be watching as incumbents, including Neal and Sen. Edward J. Markey, have their careers on the line. 

Photo finish

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