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At the Races: Twenty-too soon?

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.

President Joe Biden took the stage at the Capitol on Wednesday, one week after lawmakers impeached Donald Trump for a second time, and two weeks after a mob of Trump supporters overran the building. Biden acknowledged the country is deeply divided as it confronts the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and a reckoning over systemic racism. 

How he handles these crises will also determine his Democratic Party’s fate in the 2022 midterms. Republicans believe Democrats will overplay their hand and expect the divided GOP to quickly unite in opposition to Biden. And they wasted no time blasting the new administration. 

A NRCC fundraising missive that hit inboxes seven minutes after Biden took the oath of office called for donations “if you agree that Biden’s agenda is wrong for America.” NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline referenced Biden’s immigration proposal in a Wednesday statement, saying that Democrats “are already embracing a radical immigration agenda of amnesty and open borders.”

Heading into 2022, Republicans have history on their side. The president’s party typically loses seats in his first midterms. The most recent exception was in 2002, when Republicans netted eight House seats and one Senate seat in the aftermath of 9/11 and the lead-up to the Iraq War. Could Biden and his fellow Democrats see a similar boost as they respond to a range of crises? Former Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who led the NRCC in 2002, doesn’t think so.  

“This isn’t 9/11, which united this country,” Davis recently told At the Races. He said Democrats could stay energized if Trump remains in the spotlight, but Republicans have the edge in upcoming redistricting fights and among independent voters, who usually reject one-party control of Washington. 

“The biggest variable’s Joe Biden,” Davis said.

Starting gate

What’s next? With Trump out of office, the GOP is grappling with questions about the party’s future, and with not much time to spare before 2022.  

For more on the GOP: CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales penned his own thoughts on where Republicans go from here. And he joined the Political Theater podcast to talk about it. 

New Year, New Senate: Democrats sealed their control of Washington on Wednesday by swearing in three new senators — Georgia’s Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and California’s Alex Padilla. The mostly formal ceremony was punctuated by a few laughs and elbow bumps. 

Vote watch: A day after the House voted to impeach Trump a second time, the DCCC launched digital ads against potentially vulnerable Republicans who voted against it. 

PAC-lash: Democrats had no problem with corporate PACs announcing they would not contribute to Republicans who voted to invalidate two states’ electoral votes this month, but DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney is not at all happy with companies that are pausing all giving. 

Bill No. 1: Democrats in the House and Senate signaled this week that a symbolic first order of business would be a major overhaul of the nation’s voting, campaign finance and ethics laws. But that doesn’t guarantee its passage in the Senate.  


DSCC chatter: Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who won a hotly contested reelection race last year, has emerged as a top contender to lead the DSCC, HuffPost first reported this week. And Politico reports that Peters is likely to lead the committee.

Speaking of Senate races: Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne didn’t rule out a possible 2022 run for Senate or governor in her home state of Iowa. And in Florida, Politico reports that some have floated Ivanka Trump as a potential primary challenger to GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. Asked about that on Thursday, NRSC Chairman Rick Scott told reporters in the Capitol, “I’m supporting incumbents.” One Trump ally Rubio doesn’t have to worry about? Rep. Matt Gaetz, who tweeted Tuesday that he has “no interest” in challenging the senator in a primary, but he might consider a statewide run for agriculture commissioner.

The never-ending race: This is your weekly reminder that New York’s 22nd District is still vacant. New York State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte ordered Wednesday that more than 1,000 ballots in one county be reviewed and possibly counted. Former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney currently leads Democrat Anthony Brindisi, the most recent holder of the seat, by just 29 votes. 

GOP recoil: South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice’s vote with nine other GOP colleagues to impeach Trump last week has drawn a predictable response. “He will be primaried,” former Mercedes-Benz dealer Ken Richardson told The Charleston Post and Courier. Trump won the district by almost 19 points in November, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections

Knives (still) out: Trump supporters haven’t forgotten the former president’s call to “get rid” of Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the highest-ranking House Republican to vote for his impeachment. State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a hard-line conservative, launched a primary challenge against her Wednesday, and the House Freedom Caucus is circulating a petition to have her removed from her No. 3 leadership post. But not everyone is on board. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said at a news conference Thursday that he wants Cheney to remain as conference chairwoman. 

Rocky road ahead: Two Democrats are considering 2022 House challenges to freshman Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, The Colorado Sun reports, while the Aspen Daily News says a local defense attorney began thinking about running the day after she was elected. Boebert, the former owner of a gun-themed restaurant who has criticized the decision to install magnetometers outside the House chamber, toppled Rep. Scott Tipton in a GOP primary last year and went on to beat a former state senator by 6 points.

Bayou boost: He’s given up his House seat for a job at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the Biden White House, but Cedric L. Richmond wants a say in who replaces him in Louisiana’s 2nd District. He endorsed Democratic state Sen. Troy Carter, calling him “the right person at the right time to continue fighting for Louisiana.”

What we’re reading

Stu says: GOP excitement about Trump’s improved vote totals among voters of color reminded Stu Rothenberg of an analysis he wrote in 1986 about Republican optimism about inroads with Black voters, and what’s happened since then.

Leaders of the PACs: The Washington Post contacted 30 companies whose PACs contributed the most to the GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying the electoral results back on Jan. 6. Two-thirds of those companies said they would suspend some or all payments.  

Countdown: After the Census Bureau missed a Dec. 31 deadline, the Justice Department has said it will take until the end of March to deliver population counts that decide how the 435 House seats are apportioned among the 50 states, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reported.

Paging Senate Republicans: Arizona and Georgia are arguably the Senate GOP’s two best pickup opportunities in 2022, and both states’ Republican parties are grappling with recent losses. Politico and The New York Times have deep dives on Arizona Republicans’ shift toward Trump. And The Atlanta Journal-Constitution delves into the Georgia GOP (also noting that Republicans expect controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to launch a statewide run).

Freshmen, divided: After their tumultuous first days in office, the House GOP newcomers have emerged divided amid tensions in the party following the deadly Capitol mob attack. The warring factions in the freshman class mirror the broader rift in the GOP, Politico reports.

Drawing GOP district lines: House Republicans who voted against certifying electoral results probably won’t face much in the way of electoral repercussions, thanks to gerrymandered congressional districts. And when it comes to redistricting efforts this year, The New York Times found that of the 139 House Republicans who voted to object to Biden’s Electoral College victory, 85 come from states where the GOP will control the process entirely.

The count: 66

That’s how many years it has been since three new senators were sworn in on the same day, excluding the first day of a new Congress, according to the Senate historian. On Nov. 8, 1954, the new senators — Nebraska’s Roman Hruska and Hazel Abel and New Hampshire’s Norris Cotton — took the seats of predecessors who died in office. The openings filled yesterday by Ossoff, Warnock and Padilla coincided because of two runoffs — one of them a special election to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons — and Kamala Harris’ resignation to take her new job down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nathan’s notes

Did Trump create, as his son Eric put it, “the greatest movement in American history”? Nathan tested the premise against his favorite stat — Vote Above Replacement — to see if Trump performed as well as an average Republican in key states.

Candidate confessions

Former GOP Rep. Ryan A. Costello told At the Races this week that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol spurred him to strongly consider running for Senate in Pennsylvania, where Republican Patrick J. Toomey is retiring. But the ongoing threats against members of Congress also has Costello thinking “long and hard” about entering the race. Costello, who played for the GOP baseball team but was not at practice during the 2017 shooting, raised concerns about a new level of threats in recent years. “That was from the left,” Costello said of the baseball practice shooting. “This stuff is from the right. But I think the issue of political violence has certainly escalated since 2016, that’s for sure.”

Shop talk: A’shanti Gholar

Gholar has spent much of her career working to achieve more diverse representation in American democracy. She now promotes that goal as president of Emerge, a group devoted to recruiting and training women to run for office. Alumni include Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Kim Schrier of Washington and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, whom Biden has nominated for Interior secretary. She is also the host of the Brown Girls’ Guide to Politics podcast

Starting out: “I do not come from a super politically engaged family. You know, they voted. So I never knew that even really having a career in politics was possible. But I fell in love with politics at a young age. I was watching TV with my mom one day, and she got up from the couch, and, as young kids do, I changed the TV to something I wanted to watch. And that’s when I discovered C-SPAN. And I was like ‘What’s going on here?’ All of these people yelling and screaming about making the country better. I was super intrigued. And I knew I loved this thing that I was watching called politics. But I also knew at that young age, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me. I didn’t see a lot of women. I didn’t see a lot of people of color. So even then, it does make you think, ‘Do I belong here? Is there space for me?’”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In 2004, I was one of the super volunteers for John Kerry. That was my first exposure to national-level politics. And just seeing him give speeches to one of the big labor union conventions, the press gaggle, the motorcade, it was just a reminder of how big politics is, and how impactful it is. As someone who did not come from this world, just to be so up close and upfront to it, that was very surreal.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “I was always a field engagement girl at heart. It was the thing that I loved. But I regret not trying out different departments, being in the development department, being in the press department. That is my big piece of advice that I give to young people now. When they’re starting off in politics, and they want to do a campaign, I tell them, ‘Try a little bit of everything to figure out what you like.’” 

Unconventional wisdom: “We always get questions from people where they’re like ‘Do I have to have a certain amount of money in my checking account? Do I have to have a certain type of credit score? Do I have to have degrees?’ In our society, because of who our elected officials have been, we feel that we have to fit this mold to run for office, to be an elected official. And people just need to run as they are. We need those people from all different walks of life at every level of government. So for me, that’s something that I say all the time. Not everything is going to line up perfectly in your life when you want to run for office. You’re not always going to have done everything perfectly in your life. But that should not stop you from wanting that seat at the table to help make your communities and the country better.”

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Coming up

Congress now faces a lengthy to-do list, from confirming Biden’s Cabinet appointees to a Senate impeachment trial and another COVID-19 relief package. The CQ Roll Call team is covering it all, and you can follow our coverage here.

Photo finish

Local business owner flies past his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel in public transportation on Wednesday morning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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