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At the Races: No sleep ’til Georgia

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This has been a week of soul-searching for Democrats. 

While Joe Biden won the presidency, his party is bracing itself for a midterm cycle that will see it defending a depleted House majority and trying to thwart a newly energized GOP. As CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales points out in his column this week, the president’s party has lost House seats in 19 of the last 21 midterm elections, including an average loss of 33 House seats in those 19 cycles. 

With 15 House races still to be called as of this afternoon, Republicans have picked up nine seats to Democrats’ three, a gut punch after Democrats’ hubris in October. 

And because we’re talking about Democrats, they can’t agree on what went wrong and what comes next. Party leaders defended their election strategy and shot back at critics in their ranks.

“By building a big battlefield, triggering Republican retirements, and going on offense, we stretched Republicans thin and forced them to spend over $173 million on defense,” DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos said in a call with members Tuesday. 

Moderates, like Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, lashed out at progressives for opening them to attacks from the right about socialism and defunding the police. 

“If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we will get [expletive] torn apart in 2022,” Spanberger reportedly said. 

Progressives, meanwhile, called for an increased focus on the “profoundly compelling economic message” coming from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

“When Democratic leaders make unforced errors like showing off two sub-zero freezers full of ice cream on national television or cozying up with Wall Street executives and corporate lobbyists while [Donald] Trump tells voters we are the party of the swamp, it is not surprising that we lose,” the progressive group Justice Democrats wrote in a memo Wednesday. “We need a new generation of leadership grounded in a multiracial, working class experience and background.”

Starting gate

Surfing the ‘green wave’: The House Democratic “green wave” of campaign cash returned in 2020, and the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund jumped in to help close the spending gap. But the group’s president says candidate fundraising is still “the single biggest structural problem House Republicans have.” 

Keeping the gavel: One week after Election Day, Democrats clinched the House majority by securing the 218 seats necessary to control the chamber. But their majority will be smaller, and they could still lose more seats.  

Record breakers: The next Congress will see a record 26 GOP women in the House (and maybe more). CQ Roll Call’s Katherine Tully-McManus looks at Republican women’s success this cycle and other “firsts” in the next Congress.

Biden their time: Joe Biden’s presidential win gives Senate Democrats a narrow path to the majority, writes CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski. And when Kamala Harris is sworn in as the next vice president, California Gov. Gavin Newsom will be tasked with naming her Senate replacement (a task he has said he would not wish on his worst enemy).

Less travel, more Zoom: Changes that campaigns adopted because of the coronavirus crisis may endure long after the pandemic subsides, political operatives say. And they extend beyond elbow bumps.

Congrats from lobbyland: As far as K Street is concerned, Trump is a 2020 election loser — even as he balks at conceding and challenges tabulations in some states.

First bite of the peach: Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue put a clear end to speculation about how they would handle Trump loyalty in their January runoff races that could decide the Senate majority when they advanced the president’s claims of election fraud in Georgia. And both parties complained about Facebook’s and Google’s extension of ad bans that one Republican strategist called a breach of their First Amendment rights. 

ICYMI

Campaign committee campaigning: Bustos announced this week she wouldn’t run for another term as head of the DCCC, opening up a race for the position. And Senate Republicans chose Florida’s Rick Scott to lead the NRSC in the 2022 cycle. Scott tapped his chief of staff, Jackie Schutz Zeckman, who managed his 2018 campaign, to be the next NRSC executive director. And his current communications director, Chris Hartline, will lead NRSC communications. 

A Rouda wakening: California Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda conceded his reelection race in the 48th District on Tuesday, but he’s already eyeing another run in 2022.

Counting votes in 2020: It’s going to take even longer to certify results in California’s 21st District, where former GOP Rep. David Valadao is leading Democratic Rep. TJ Cox. California Target Book’s Rob Pyers pointed out that Kings County’s elections department is temporarily closing “due to a COVID-19 exposure.” Canvassing will resume on Nov. 21.

To concede or not to concede: A handful of GOP House candidates who lost in deep-blue districts are following Trump’s lead, and refusing to concede, according to The Washington Post

Speaking of not conceding: Michigan Republican John James, who lost by fewer than 2 points to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, set up a legal fund this week to bankroll a probe of potential voting problems after he said last week that he has “deep concerns that millions of Michiganders may have been disenfranchised by a dishonest few who cheat.” James, an Army veteran, has not conceded as of Thursday. 

No limits: The Supreme Court this week declined to hear a case from Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, and others challenging super PACs’ exemption from contribution limits. In a two-sentence blog post, campaign finance lawyer Rick Hasen wrote that it should come as no surprise because the current court is unlikely to further regulate political money. “The trend is decidedly in the opposite direction,” he noted.

What we’re reading

What happened: HuffPost has a deep dive into how Democrats’ high hopes for a sizable Senate majority came crashing down

Surprise party: Politico breaks down some of the most surprising House race results.

2022 watch: After losing the 2020 Republican primary to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc says he’s prepping to for a 2022 run against first-term Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, WMUR reports.

2024 watch: Politico looks at how Republicans are already trying to fill the power vacuum left by Trump, noting that 2024 hopefuls will be heading to Georgia to stump for Loeffler and Perdue in their runoffs.

Lessons learned, part one: Dueling New York Times interviews laid bare House Democrats’ divergent takeaways from the 2020 elections. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chided moderates for blaming their losses on liberal policies, saying those campaigns weren’t “firing on all cylinders” and the party needs to focus on door-knocking and campaigning online. Times reporter Astead Herndon, who interviewed AOC, later tweeted that the five Democrats who accepted her offer to help with campaign organizing were Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes; California’s Katie Porter, TJ Cox and Mike Levin; and Oregon’s Peter A. DeFazio

Lessons learned, part two: Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb, whom AOC name-checked as someone who didn’t spend enough on Facebook, told the Times that liberal members are advocating policies that are “unworkable and extremely unpopular” and that, in swing districts like his, “it’s the message that matters.”

The count: 15

That’s how many House races have still not been called by The Associated Press as of 2 p.m. Eastern time today. Eight are in New York, a state not used to processing so many absentee ballots, which had to be returned to election officials by Tuesday. Republicans are currently leading in seven of the Democratic-held seats that haven’t yet been called, including in Iowa’s open 2nd District. Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a state senator making her fourth bid for the seat, is leading former Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart by just 40 votes and has declared victory. Hart announced today that she will file for a full recount.

Other Democratic-held seats that have not yet been called include Utah’s 4th District; California’s 21st and 39th; Illinois’ 14th; and New York’s 3rd, 11th, 18th, 19th, and 22nd. Republican-held seats that have not been called yet include California’s 25th and New York’s 1st, 2nd and 24th. And it’s not yet clear who has secured the second runoff position in Louisiana’s 5th, an open safe Republican seat.

Nathan’s notes

The president’s party typically loses seats in the first midterms of his administration, so Republicans have a good shot at winning back the House in two years if history is any guide. But as Nathan writes in his latest column, if Trump decides to run again in 2024, that could complicate things for the GOP in 2022.

Candidate concessions, continued

Democrat Cal Cunningham conceded to North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis on Tuesday, capping a rough final stretch of his campaign when the challenger admitted to an extramarital affair. 

“I want to thank my entire campaign team for their hard work, the countless volunteers and supporters who joined our effort, the North Carolinians who turned out to vote in record numbers to participate in our great democracy, and the election officials who worked in the face of a dangerous pandemic to administer this free and fair election,” Cunningham said in his concession statement. He did not deliver a speech, according to his campaign. 

Though Cunningham is married with children, his official statement didn’t mention his family. 

Georgia watch

We know our readers will spend the next two months obsessing over the two Georgia Senate races that could decide the chamber’s majority. We will too. So until Jan. 5, At the Races will highlight the most important developments every week, with inside scoops from our reporting. 

The first poll released Wednesday by a Republican-leaning firm showed close margins in both races as the candidates scrambled to get their own messages out ahead of the outside groups that announced the first of what promises to be many multimillion-dollar spending commitments. Today, Senate Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC aligned with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and American Crossroads, an affiliated group, invested a combined $9 million in ad buys for both runoffs. The ads will launch Tuesday and run for one week. 

Meanwhile, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio spoke Wednesday at a crowded, indoor rally with Republicans in Marietta that defied social distancing recommendations, in one of a string of expected visits from possible 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls to the state. 

GOP incumbents Perdue and Loeffler joined forces with an explosive statement Monday decrying unspecified “failures” in the state elections and calling for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to resign. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution later reported that the move was driven by pressure from Trump and his allies to support unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud or else risk a base-provoking presidential tweet. 

The two incumbents adopted attacks against their Democratic challengers, pastor Raphael Warnock and documentary film producer Jon Ossoff, that have proved effective in other down-ballot races across the country, calling them socialists aligned with D.C. liberals and Hollywood elitists who wanted to impose a “dangerous” agenda on Georgia. 

Ossoff released his first ad of the runoff, focusing on drawing the country together and healing from the coronavirus pandemic; taunted Perdue for “hiding” from the public while he set off on a statewide tour; and challenged Perdue to three debates.

Warnock, a senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, was the least defined of the four candidates owing to his late surge in the 20-candidate special election. In his second TV ad of the runoff, Warnock is shown shaving and ironing his shirt in a modest house while, in a voice over, he talks about his upbringing “in the housing projects of Savannah.” “People like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” he says, an overt contrast with Loeffler, the wealthiest member of the Senate who was appointed to her seat and has spent more than $23 million of her own money on her campaign so far.

Loeffler punched back in two ads released Thursday morning that mined Warnock’s past for evidence of what she calls radicalism, such as his 10-year-old defense of a pastor whose fiery sermons became a flashpoint in Barack Obama’s 2008 election and his work at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a Harlem landmark, where he was a youth pastor when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gave a 1995 speech.

Coming up

House Democrats next week will select their leaders for the new Congress, including their pick to helm the DCCC. 

Photo finish

As news of Joe Biden’s win spread Saturday, CQ Roll Call photojournalist Tom Williams caught Najee Thompson stopping his car in D.C. traffic on Fourteenth Street Northwest and jumping into the air. It was one of many scenes of celebration throughout the city.

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