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At the Races: Runoff the red-nosed reindeer

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Publishing note: This is your final At the Races of the year. We’ll be back on Thursday, Jan. 7.

’Twas three days before Christmas 
When through the House and the Senate
A shutdown was averted at the last minute. 
Attention’s now turning to two Georgia races
Where four different hopefuls are making their cases.
While we’re watching closely to see who will fall, 
We wanted to pause and say “thanks” to you all. 
Now our message to you, dear ATR readers,
Who follow our coverage of this country’s leaders: 
Thank you for being so loyal and kind.
This holiday season, we’ll keep you in mind. 
So here’s to the end of this mind-boggling year.
Come 2021, we’ll see you right here. 

Starting gate

Newsom’s pick: California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate, Newsom announced Tuesday. Padilla, who previously served in the state Senate and on the Los Angeles City Council, will be the Golden State’s first Latino senator. It wasn’t immediately clear if Newsom will call a special election or if Padilla will just run for a full term in 2022.

Total eclipse of the Hart: Democrat Rita Hart officially filed a “notice of contest” with the House today, challenging the results in Iowa’s 2nd District where GOP state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was certified the winner by just six votes.

Hey, big spenders: Outside groups in both parties are dropping millions of dollars on the Georgia runoffs, and Republicans are outspending Democrats 2-to-1.

What they weren’t saying:  Lawmakers reached a last-minute deal over COVID-19 relief this week, which has been an issue in both Georgia Senate runoffs. But neither parties’ candidates brought up the latest relief package at their high-profile rallies Monday. 

NM-01: President-elect Joe Biden’s pick of New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland for Interior secretary sets off a potentially crowded field of contenders for her solidly Democratic Albuquerque-area seat. No primaries would be held for the special election; the state central committees of both parties would select their nominees.

Uh-oh: The House Ethics Committee is investigating Mississippi GOP Rep. Steven M. Palazzo’s campaign spending, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. Palazzo ran unopposed in the 2020 general election.


Staffing up: Tim Persico, the former chief of staff to incoming DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, will be the committee’s next executive director, Maloney announced Tuesday. Three top staffers will remain at the committee: Jacqui Newman as deputy executive director and chief operating officer, Jackie Forte-Mackay as chief financial officer and Tasha Cole as deputy executive director for diversity, helping to recruit diverse staff. But Politico reported that some Democrats are warning Maloney to stay committed to staff diversity, noting he chose Persico, a white man, to lead the committee. Issues over staff diversity upended the DCCC in the 2020 cycle.

Also at the DCCC: Maloney also announced that Texas Rep. Marc Veasey will be vice chair for strategy, California Rep. Linda T. Sánchez will be vice chair of Latino engagement, and California Rep. Ami Bera will chair the Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

2020 will never end: New York’s 22nd District will likely not have a representative at the start of the new Congress, state Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte signaled Monday. DelConte said he is waiting to rule on challenges to ballots until all counties are finished updating their vote counts, which is taking longer than expected. Former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney leads Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi by just 19 votes in the latest count.

Senate race watch: There will be plenty of competitive Senate races in 2022, and speculation about potential candidates is already underway. Colorado Politics has a rundown of Republicans who could take on two-term Democrat Michael Bennet (although GOP Rep. Ken Buck told CNN he isn’t interested). In Florida, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy didn’t rule out a run against two-term Republican Marco Rubio. And in Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan confirmed she’s considering running for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey

Plot the vote: About a dozen” House Republicans, organized by Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday to discuss an effort to block Congress from affirming Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6.

Toast of the Hill: Rep. Joe Cunningham, the South Carolina Democrat who lost his seat in November, shared a parting message for his colleagues last week — one of comity, collaboration and cold brews. “We need to come together,” he said on the House floor. “We have to sit down and listen to each other, and maybe even have a beer.” He then pulled out a can of microbrew from his pocket and cracked it open. The Beer Institute, a lobbying group for brewers, concurred. In a more sober moment, Cunningham reflected on his brief tenure in the House and the future of climate change legislation but told E&E News he hasn’t yet considered whether to seek a rematch against GOP Rep.-elect Nancy Mace in 2022. 

For holiday binge watching: CQ Roll Call video journalists Thomas McKinless and Jinitzail Hernández have been talking with incoming House members, including video game developer turned Rep.-elect Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., whose sons think his games “are, by definition, uncool” because their dad helped develop them; gun-themed restaurant owner turned Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who believes “an armed society is a polite society;” and gun store owner turned Rep.-elect Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who says his fellow incoming freshmen told him, “You’re the gun guy now, you’re going to be the one to help us out and to educate us.”

What we’re reading

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map: Fairer maps might have helped Democrats flip legislative chambers in Minnesota and Michigan last month, but ticket splitting and the absence of Biden coattails also contributed to the party’s disappointing results in statehouse races, researchers with the Sister District Action Network found.

Everyone in their corners:  The Washington Post took a look at a new study that explains why Republicans picked up House seats but lost the White House. The answer: partisanship.

Messing with Texas: National Journal dives into how Democrats’ hopes were dashed in Texas this year. 

Never done: Getting the current president out of the White House was just the beginning for a collection of “Never Trumpers,” who are now grappling with whether to remake the GOP or start a new party and how to influence the incoming Biden administration, Politico reports.

Personal touch: After Democrats concluded that their candidates this year suffered from cutting out canvassing in the early days of the pandemic, neither party is holding back in the all-important Georgia Senate runoffs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took a deep dive into the massive ground game on both sides.  

Seeking progress in politics: Progressives in and out of Congress are regrouping ahead of the 2022 election cycle when they are likely to support more primary challenges of incumbent Democrats, Politico writes

The count: 47

That’s how many members of Congress were “volunteer fundraisers” — aka bundlers — who raised at least $100,000 for the Biden-Harris ticket. The list includes Haaland, Biden’s choice for Interior secretary, and Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, whom he picked to run the public engagement office at the White House. It also includes two members who lost 2020 bids: Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Edward J. Markey in a primary; and Florida Rep. Donna E. Shalala, who was defeated in November.

Candidate confessions

California Rep.-elect Young Kim will be among the record number of GOP women sworn into the House next month, and among the first Korean American women in Congress. She recently told At the Races that she felt there was more behind-the-scenes support for GOP women this cycle compared to 2018, when she narrowly lost to Democrat Gil Cisneros. Kim said one of her mentors was Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Chao would congratulate Kim when she saw the former state assemblywoman interviewed in national news outlets, such as The New York Times. “She would actually cut it out, put it in the mail, [and say], ‘You go, girl!’” Kim said. “This type of encouragement and support was really critical.”

Georgia watch

Trump’s announcement, on Twitter, that he plans to make a second trip to Georgia to rally his base to vote for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler was a highlight of a week of will-he-won’t-he reporting on the Georgia runoffs. 

The decision came two days after The New York Times reported that Trump had scrapped a tentative plan to visit the state last Saturday because he was angry with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for certifying Biden’s Georgia win. 

The change of heart was undoubtedly welcomed by Perdue and Loeffler, who have so far avoided saying whether they will endorse Biden’s victory. But with nearly 1.7 million votes already cast, it’s an open question whether Trump’s visit, scheduled on the eve of the Jan. 5. elections, will come in time to counter some of his allies’ calls to boycott the election. 

Both parties have been urging voters to cast ballots early to avoid the holiday rush, the potential of a coronavirus surge, or even a crippling Southern snow storm. That was a major theme of dueling rallies the candidates held with Ivanka Trump and Harris on Monday. 

Early voting data shows Democratic ballots slightly outnumber those returned by Republicans, with Black voters — who tend to favor Democrats — so far making up a bigger share of the early vote than they did in November’s election. But Republicans are confident their voters, who are more likely to vote in person on Election Day, will show up.

The GOP candidates, meanwhile, are dealing with a series of potentially damaging headlines. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, noting that Perdue has repeatedly made false allegations that Ossoff is tied to the Chinese Communist Party, delved into Perdue’s much more substantial China connections

The New York Times pointed out inconsistencies in Loeffler’s self-portrait as a “humble farm girl,” staunch abortion opponent and fervent Trump supporter. And more than 100 religious leaders signed an open letter condemning Loeffler’s attacks on Warnock as a strike against the Black church.(At the Races readers will remember that we considered whether Loeffler could suffer such blowback in this story last month).  

A unanimous appellate court ruling Sunday was the latest in a series of court decisions rebuffing Republican attempts to invalidate absentee ballots. And The Associated Press took a close look at a conservative organization seeking to challenge the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters. The group, True the Vote, has ties to the state GOP, raising questions about illegal coordination. 

But it wasn’t all bad news for the Republicans. A group of four Orthodox rabbis, two of whom were from Georgia, signed another letter to the Warnock campaign raising concerns about his past statements about Israel and Palestine, comments Loeffler has sought to portray as anti-Semitic.

Watch this space

Loyal readers may remember our old “Shop Talk” column about campaign staffers, and we’re bringing it back for At the Races in the new year! Each week, we’ll feature a different operative, looking at their past campaigns and how they see the current landscape. As we get up and running, send any tips about whom we should talk to by emailing

Coming up

The Georgia runoffs, of course! As we reminded you last week, the candidates’ preelection campaign finance reports are due to the FEC by midnight on Christmas Eve. And in case you’re getting a head start on filling out your 2021 calendar, here are some key dates to watch in January: The new Congress is sworn in Jan. 3; the Georgia runoffs are Jan. 5; Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6; and President-elect Joe BIden’s inauguration is set for Jan. 20.

Photo finish

If anyone can capture the craziness that was 2020, it’s CQ Roll Call’s photojournalists. They’re taking a look back in a three-part “Photos of the Year” series, including this one from Tom Williams of Biden supporters watching the Democratic convention. Check out Tom’s picks and Caroline Brehman’s photos of the year and stay tuned for Bill Clark’s picks. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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