Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.
Editor’s note: At the Races will not come out next week on Thanksgiving Day. We’ll be back Dec. 3.
Lawmakers and newly elected members of Congress, after learning the ways of Capitol Hill, are heading off for a Thanksgiving recess that seems more of a quarantine/convalescence, unfortunately, for a number of them.
House Democrats, who picked most of their leaders this week virtually because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, are looking ahead to the 117th Congress and the 2022 cycle, but they’ve got little in the way of 2020 races to feel thankful for: No House Republicans have lost yet. Utah Rep. Ben McAdams was among the latest to concede; he lost to former NFL player Burgess Owens, who continues the GOP’s streak of defeating incumbent Democrats with candidates who are minorities and women.
Still, in the latest count, House Democrats held 21 of the 30 districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016. They lost seven and are on a path to lose two more. We’re watching for possible voluntary exits too, as President-elect Joe Biden begins to staff up. The caucus is already losing one member in a safe Democratic seat, Louisiana’s Cedric L. Richmond, to the Biden administration. And perhaps more will follow. Reps. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio may be in the running for the top spots at Interior and Agriculture, respectively. Special elections, anyone?
The battle for the Senate rages on in Georgia (for more on that, scroll down to our special report), as Trump refuses to concede the presidential election. Republican elected officials have stood with Trump as he fights the results and questions the electoral process in Georgia and other states. But one corner of official Washington has had enough: K Street. The National Association of Manufacturers, one of the city’s biggest lobbies, called on the Trump administration “to work cooperatively with President-elect Biden and his team,” as the nation grapples with COVID-19 and the economic downturn.
Well, happy Thanksgiving?
I’ve got you, babe: After largely ignoring each other all year, Georgia Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have emerged in runoff campaigns with a unified message warning that they are the last line of defense against “radical” control in Washington. Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, meanwhile, are attacking the incumbents as self-interested millionaires who botched the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Eyes on 2022: After Thanksgiving, New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and California Rep. Tony Cárdenas face off to lead the DCCC for the 2022 cycle. Both said in interviews they think Democrats could grow their House majority (despite history saying otherwise). And Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer was reelected for another term as NRCC chairman (he was unopposed). Emmer said in an interview that he believes House Republicans have a clear shot at the majority in the upcoming midterms, and he’s already eyeing some potential targets.
#LA02 vacancy: Biden’s selection of Richmond to head the White House Office of Public Engagement means there could be a crowded battle for his seat in Louisiana that won’t likely be settled until an April runoff.
Latino outreach: Democrats’ expectations that they would overwhelmingly win Latino voters were “wildly optimistic,” writes CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone, with Trump making gains among this key demographic in Texas and Florida. But Arizona provides clues for how Democrats can improve their performance among Latino voters, who helped turn that state blue.
#Winning: The group Winning for Women touted 2020 electoral successes for GOP women in a memo shared first with CQ Roll Call. The group also said female candidates are key to winning back suburban female voters.
Nice try: Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would press ahead early next year with a campaign finance and elections overhaul, known as HR 1, even as the measure may face the same Senate fate it did this Congress: doom.
How do you spell Murkowski again? Voters in Alaska approved a ballot measure to set up a ranked-choice voting system. According to the Anchorage Daily News, candidates in all parties will compete in one primary, and the top four vote-getters will advance to the general election where voters will rank the four candidates in order of preference. This will be in place for the 2022 elections, which is good news for GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom Trump said in June he would campaign against in two years.
Rose as a thorn in Bill’s side: Yahoo News reported that Democratic Rep. Max Rose is considering running for New York City mayor. Rose, who recently conceded his race in the 11th District that includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, repeatedly criticized termed-out Mayor Bill de Blasio during the 2020 campaign.
Newsom’s choice: Several Black political groups, including the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, the Collective PAC, Higher Heights for America PAC and ALPHA PAC, issued a joint statement Tuesday urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint a Black woman to replace Sen. Kamala Harris once she becomes vice president. The California Legislative Black Caucus also urged Newsom to appoint Reps. Barbara Lee or Karen Bass.
Gone Gil: California Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros lost a rematch against former state Assemblywoman Young Kim in the 39th District, The Associated Press declared Nov. 13. Neither the NRCC nor CLF spent in the race, which sits in the expensive Los Angeles media market. Kim and fellow Republican Michelle Steel, who flipped another Southern California seat, as well as Democrat Marilyn Strickland, who won an open-seat race in Washington state, will be the first Korean American women to serve in Congress.
Are fleet threads possible? Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell launched a Twitter thread Wednesday, explaining why she thinks she lost reelection in South Florida despite outrunning the top of the ticket. “There were many factors: a targeted disinformation campaign to Latinos; an electorate desperate to re-open, wracked with fear over the economic consequences; a national party that thinks racial identity is how we vote,” she wrote. “It’s not just about socialism.”
Show Me another challenger: The Kansas City Star reported that former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander will not seek a rematch against GOP Sen. Roy Blunt, according to a longtime Kander aide.
Revolving door uproar: Progressive groups are upping their pressure on the incoming Biden-Harris administration to reject would-be appointees they view as too cozy with corporate America, including K Street denizens. But Black and Latino lobbyists are mounting a counteroffensive, arguing that such prohibitions could limit diversity in the executive branch.
Is it 2022 yet?: One North Carolina Democrat is exploring a run for Congress in 2022, but there’s a catch: The seat doesn’t exist yet, writes our former colleague Daniel Newhauser.
Cue “Gone with the Wind” theme: Both the House and Senate voted this year in competing versions of the annual defense authorization bill to remove the names of Confederate officers from military bases. But given the stakes of the Senate runoffs and how unpopular the GOP believes it would be to rename Fort Benning, House Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry says Congress may not pass a final bill this session, CQ Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly reports.
Some runoffs happen fast: Guam Del. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas will be returning to Congress after winning his runoff Tuesday against fellow Democrat (and former delegate) Robert A. Underwood, 60 percent to 40 percent. San Nicolas, who is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, joins the other five nonvoting members of the House who all either won reelection or ran unopposed on Nov. 3.
What we’re reading
Not good: “Liberals and conservatives don’t merely disagree,” Stu Rothenberg writes in his latest column. “They believe the other side is corrupt and dangerous, with an agenda that is threatening and evil.”
House call: The New York Post reported that the shrinking House Democratic majority has prompted party leaders to urge members not to leave Congress for the Biden administration.
Ticket splitters: National Journal looks at the congressional Republicans who appear to have won over Biden voters.
Donating their feelings: In a democracy, the purpose of politics is to exercise power over public policy. Rage-donating to long-shot candidates isn’t a winning strategy, Eitan Hersh writes in The Atlantic.
Polling problems: Polls wrongly showed GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Thom Tillis heading for defeat, among other congressional contests the surveys got wrong. The New York Times examines how the polling industry missed the mark, again. The Pew Research Center also looks at what it all means for other survey work. And the Times delved into Collins’ victory in Maine, revealing how a nationalized, big-money effort can backfire.
Buy me love: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a deep dive into Loeffler’s largely self-funded $31 million campaign that advanced her to the Georgia Senate runoff by overwhelming opponent Republican Rep. Doug Collins with advertising and managing to turn potential weaknesses to strengths.
The count: 3
That’s how many nominees for the Federal Election Commission began the Senate confirmation process this week with a hearing at the Rules and Administration Committee. Blunt, the committee’s chairman, said he wants to confirm all three this year. The trio of nominees would restore the agency to its full slate of six commissioners, after having too many vacancies to even convene meetings for much of the 2020 campaign season.
Along with touting what he got right and accepting his lumps for what he got wrong — try to guess without peeking what he considered his “biggest whiff of the season” — the latest dispatch from Nathan L. Gonzales also addresses those who accuse him of slanting projections for partisan purposes.
Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young’s opponent, Alyse Galvin, had criticized him during the campaign for downplaying the coronavirus as the “beer virus,” a reference to Corona beer. Young, 87, was recently reelected, but he then tested positive for COVID-19. He told The Washington Post, “I’ve been shot, I’ve been rolled over, I’ve been hit in the head a hundred times, but I’ve never felt as bad as I did.” He added that his new nickname for the illness was “the whiskey virus. “You drink too much, and it’ll kill you,” Young said.
What better way to close out 2020 than with an aggressive, gazillion-dollar fight for the soul of the country?
That’s what we’re getting with the Georgia Senate runoffs. Two weeks into the two races, the candidates have solidified messages that are appropriately doom-laden.
Republican incumbents Perdue and Loeffler are storming the Peach State with a rotating cast of GOP boldface names presenting maskless crowds in indoor spaces with the base-riling message that they are the country’s last defense against total, radical control in Washington.
Meanwhile, Democrats Ossoff and Warnock are holding car rallies and campaigning in Zoom rooms with the message that their opponents are self-interested empty suits who want to take away people’s health care during a pandemic.
Those are messages both sides are hammering home with ads that are starting to blanket the Georgia airwaves.
Combined spending has already reached $120 million, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact (formerly Advertising Analytics.) More is on the way.
Republicans have been almost exclusively on the attack, with a grayscale ad from Perdue warning that Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer is “trying to use Georgia to take the Senate majority and radically change America,” and an ad from Loeffler calling Warnock, a senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, a “militant, marxist, radical.”
Ossoff and Warnock, meanwhile, offered attacks on the Republicans’ handling of the coronavirus and pre-pandemic stock trades along with more uplifting promises to work with Biden to help the country rebound from the pandemic.
Expect more to come: Ossoff’s campaign on Thursday was circulating what it called a “bombshell” report from The Daily Beast detailing Perdue’s profits from stocks in a company that made submarine parts while he chaired the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower.
The Republicans have enlisted former George W. Bush aide Karl Rove to lead a joint fundraising effort between the NRSC, Loeffler and Perdue, known as the Georgia Battleground Fund. Other leaders of the effort include former Govs. Haley Barbour and Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Dan Quayle, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Army veteran John James, who just lost a Senate race in Michigan.
The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC also jumped into the runoffs this week, launching two new groups: Georgia Honor, which will spend in the Perdue race, and The Georgia Way, which will spend in the Loeffler race. SMP is initially investing $5 million in the runoffs, with $4.5 million to be spent on TV and $500,000 on digital ads. The group launched two new ads, knocking both Republicans for their stock trading as the pandemic began to hit.
Both parties are also bringing out their heavy hitters to campaign on the ground. Ron Klain, the newly named chief of staff to Biden, told “Meet the Press” that the president-elect will be in Georgia before voters go to the polls. The Biden team will also send “people, money [and] resources” to the Peach State, Klain said.
And Republicans are holding rallies today with Arkansas senator and potential 2024 hopeful Tom Cotton and tomorrow with Vice President Mike Pence.
Loeffler agreed to debate Warnock on Dec. 6, while Perdue, who debated Ossoff twice before the November election, declined another round during the runoff.
Since At the Races won’t be publishing next week, here’s a reminder for the week after Thanksgiving: There’s a runoff election Dec. 1 for the remainder of the late Rep. John Lewis’ term in Georgia’s 5th District. But the winner of the race between former Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall and former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin — both Democrats — won’t have much time to get comfy in Washington. The term ends Jan. 3, when Democrat Nikema Williams, who won on Nov. 3, is sworn in for a full term.
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Andrew Menezes contributed to this report.