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At the Races: What the GOP isn’t attacking (yet)

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.

By Stephanie Akin, Kate Ackley and Bridget Bowman

With President Joe Biden’s signature, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is now law, and Republicans have had a lot to say — about the “censorship” of Dr. Seuss, the surge of migrants at the Southern border and the alleged threat transgender athletes pose to women’s sports

But while Republicans have been eager to attack the relief package as a socialist wish list for Democrats, they have largely refrained from specifically attacking the massive change to the social safety net through the expansion of the tax credit for most families with children. 

The tax credit, which provides eligible parents a periodic check of up to $300 per child, represents a potential sea change in the rhetoric about supporting children. It reframes a debate that in the past had racially tinged demands that parents work to get aid from the government.

Republican strategists who talked to At the Races this week said they didn’t see the need to address the provision directly considering all the “waste” they have identified elsewhere in the COVID-19 package. 

But there could be other considerations at play.

Polls continue to indicate that the stimulus plan is massively popular — including among the working-class voters who flocked to the GOP under former President Donald Trump. Earlier rounds of pandemic relief, by expanding eligibility for government aid, have already changed the way many Americans think about the role of government in their lives. 

And, as political scientists  Christopher Ellis and Christopher Faricy have pointed out, the American public is generally much more receptive to social welfare policies designed as tax credits over direct payments to individuals, which are easier to paint as payouts to people who don’t deserve them.

Biden’s signature on the bill won’t be the final word on this proposal. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee Utah, who are both up for reelection next year, have already proposed an alternative that ties the tax credit to work. But, as The Associated Press reported, the expiration date sets the GOP up to make the case for taking money away from families — an argument they likely don’t want to have during an election year. 

Starting gate

Pandemic politics: The sweeping COVID-19 relief bill passed the House again Wednesday along mostly party lines, a sign of the partisan battle to come over the bill in the midterms. Democrats signaled they view the issue as politically salient, with the DSCC’s first digital ads of the cycle knocking two GOP senators for voting against the bill. This morning, House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of the Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC, announced it would spend $1.4 million in ads across nine House districts thanking Democrats for passing the measure.

What’s in a name? The back-and-forth this week over whether GOP campaign committees can use Trump’s name and likeness to fundraise underscored a broader problem facing Republicans: How to tap into the grassroots donors who fueled Trump’s campaigns. 

A Blunt announcement: Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt made a surprise announcement Monday that he will not run for a third term next year. His retirement is likely to spark a contested Republican primary. The day after Blunt’s announcement, Democratic Marine veteran Lucas Kunce officially jumped in the race. (He had previously filed with the FEC while exploring a run.) And on Wednesday, GOP Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced he would not run for the seat.

Money Talk: New fundraising reports showed Democratic state lawmakers Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson with roughly the same financial support in the special election to replace Democrat Cedric L. Richmond in Louisiana’s 2nd District, while in the state’s 5th District, Republican Julia Letlow is the heavy special election favorite for the seat her husband won shortly before he died of complications related to COVID-19.

Not fade away: Iowa Democrat Rita Hart’s hopes of overturning her six-vote November defeat to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks will stay alive after a House committee voted Wednesday to continue its review of Hart’s claim that legitimate ballots were tossed.


A press release in 280 characters: Stripped of his Twitter account, Trump has continued to endorse Republicans through statements from his Save America PAC. So far he’s backed five GOP senators up for reelection. On Wednesday, he endorsed Letlow in the upcoming special election in Louisiana. He also encouraged former football player Herschel Walker to jump into the Georgia Senate race against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, saying, “Run Herschel, run!” 

Ready to launch? The Democratic Senate primary in North Carolina is still in flux, with The New York Times reporting that Joan Higginbotham, an engineer and retired astronaut who is friends with Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, also a retired astronaut, is thinking about entering the race. And The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported that Democratic virologist Richard Watkins has joined the race. 

Wide-open races: In Pennsylvania, Republican real estate developer Jeff Bartos jumped into the open Senate race. Bartos briefly ran for Senate during the 2018 election cycle before switching to run for lieutenant governor. He lost that race to Democrat John Fetterman, who is also running for the open Senate seat. In Alabama, Senate hopeful Lynda Blanchard, who was U.S. ambassador to Slovenia under Trump, reserved $3 million in TV airtime, with ads hitting the airwaves this week, one year before the GOP primary. In the open Ohio Senate race, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera tweeted that he was considering running. Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers also told CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa that he was weighing a run. He said he’d likely have to raise $15 million and would be watching what the other candidates raise as well.

Now he wants to talk: Maine Democrat Jared Golden, a fixture on GOP target lists who has a reputation for bucking the party line, gave Politico a glimpse into his mindset on key votes. 

Dem-on-Dem detente: The DCCC has officially ended its blacklist policy for consultants who work for challengers facing incumbents in primaries, Politico reported. The change was credited to pressure from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in 2018 ousted House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley in a primary.

Waiting for the shine to fade: GOP pollsters expressed confidence in a memo to NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer that House Republicans will be in a strong position to win in battleground districts after Biden’s honeymoon period expires as long as they keep their focus on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “socialist agenda.” 

Trading in controversy: New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski did not file dozens of stock trade reports, in possible violation of the STOCK Act, according to a report in Insider. Two outside groups, the Campaign Legal Center and the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, have separately urged the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate the matter. A spokesperson for the congressman told Insider that his financial adviser “makes trading decisions on his behalf without his regular input.” And The Daily Beast reported that Texas Republican Rep. Daniel Crenshaw made a string of stock buys he did not initially disclose as the CARES Act was written and debated last year. 

Primary conflict: “The Deep State Swamp loves Liz Cheney.” So reads a fundraising pitch from Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who is seeking to oust his home-state congresswoman in a GOP primary. His latest line of attack: that establishment Republicans such as former Speaker Paul D. Ryan have pitched in for Cheney, who raised the ire of the Trump base when she voted for impeachment. “First, Mitch McConnell poured money into Liz Cheney’s campaign. Now, it’s former Speaker of the House RINO Paul Ryan stuffing cash in her campaign coffers,” the solicitation states.

What we’re reading

Trump on the Last Frontier: Stu Rothenberg delves into Trump’s threat to campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and why the Alaska Republican has the advantage in her home state. 

Cha-cha-cha-changes: Morning Consult’s Eli Yokley, a CQ Roll Call alum, delves into how the coronavirus pandemic changed campaigns, and what changes may be here to stay. 

Retirement watch: CNN has a pair of stories looking at the races facing two Republican senators on retirement watch lists: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Iowa’s Charles E. Grassley

Eyeing the north side of the Capitol: A raft of Senate retirements has caused some of Trump’s staunchest allies in the House to consider running for higher office, and they’re betting the GOP is Trump’s party now, Politico reports. 

Polling all parents: The Washington Post takes a deep dive into the ups and downs of the Biden administration’s effort to get students back in their classrooms. Republicans, meanwhile, believe outrage over the schools debate may help them win back congressional seats, including in California, as The Sacramento Bee explores.

Political priorities: Marie Claire magazine profiles Stacey Abrams in its April cover story. “My success is tied at the most base level with the success of my people, and my people are the South,” the Georgia Democrat says. “My people are Americans. My people are people of color. My success can only ever be real if I’m doing it for the success of others.”

Bookmark this page: Daily Kos Elections maps the House districts that saw the biggest shifts in the 2020 presidential election. On the Democratic side, districts where Biden performed better than Clinton were similar to those where Democrats have seen gains in previous cycles — affluent, suburban and highly educated. But there was a notable change on the Republican side, with Trump performing better in districts with large communities of color. And The New York Times looks at what drove Latino men away from Democrats.

“Listening” to “the deplorables”: Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who did polling for Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, discussed whether Democrats can continue to win with educated, suburban voters and chip away at the Trump-era GOP’s appeal with the white, working class in this in-depth Politico interview. In a key change, he notes, Biden has focused on responding to the concerns of Rust Belt voters Hillary Clinton turned off with her talk of “deplorables” and support for international trade agreements. 

The count: $18.1 million

That’s how much was in the principal campaign accounts of the five GOP senators — Blunt, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania — who are not running for reelection next year, according to FEC disclosures through Dec. 31. Shelby had nearly $9.8 million left from his last campaign and took in no contributions, but the account still had receipts of $276,000 from interest. Portman’s cash-on-hand total was over $5 million; Blunt’s $1.7 million; and Toomey’s nearly $1.5 million. Burr, who said after he won his last term he would not seek another, had just $66,000. Under law, the senators can give the money to party committees or charity, return it to donors, or keep it in a PAC and dole out donations if the next phase of their lives involves trying to influence their colleagues.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales provides a reality check about Blunt’s retirement and explains why an open Senate race doesn’t necessarily mean Missouri will become a battleground. “The location of the state and its partisan lean are more important than the open seat itself,” he reminds us.

Candidate confessions

“I’m not going to risk getting myself killed if there’s no realistic shot at winning,” said North Carolina Democrat Moe Davis, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who lost to GOP freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn last year. “If nothing changes, it’s still impossible to win here.”

Davis offered this insight, about whether he might seek a rematch with Cawthorn, to reporter Daniel Newhauser in Raw Story. Davis also told Newhauser that his social media director had quit recently after routinely having to scroll through death threats.

As far as his chances at possibly unseating Cawthorn, the subject of recent stories alleging sexual misconduct, Davis made it clear he doesn’t expect he’d see a vastly different outcome in 2022: “The hardcore that drank the Trump Kool-Aid, there’s nothing I can do to change their minds,” he said.

Shop talk: Jessica Floyd

Floyd became the new president of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge this month after working as managing director of campaigns for the Hub Project, a network of progressive organizations. American Bridge is planning to spend $100 million in the midterms.

Starting out: Floyd didn’t want to follow her parents into the medical field, but through their work, she was drawn to public service. Her mother, a nurse who advocated a better health care system in her home state of New Mexico, would take her to “mailing parties” to support candidates. “I don’t know how many stamps I licked, sitting there, for candidates that were running for state Legislature,” Floyd says. “And so it was always something that was part of the activity growing up: civic engagement and the impact that you could have through public policy and through politics.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In 2010, I was working for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on her reelection campaign. And we were, on election night, watching colleague after colleague of hers lose in the midterms,” Floyd recalls. “And for three days, we were counting votes and didn’t know whether or not she was going to win. So the race was finally called the Friday following the election. I think that the country learned what an extended count feels like this cycle, but it was certainly a harrowing couple of days.  … But that sense of relief and seeing votes get counted was something I’ll never forget.”

Biggest campaign regret: “When I was at the DCCC, we saw in 2014, and 2016, there were a number of low-level radio buys in places like Florida 26, or in Rep. [Will] Hurd’s district in Texas that were for Republicans,” Floyd says. “And I think my biggest regret is not taking that sort of constant, slow communication as seriously as we should have. Because they were able to be alone telling the narrative. … And so it certainly has shaped how I construct campaigns since, in terms of a constant conversation with voters rather than an end-of-cycle deluge of information.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Some of the conversations that have always taken place that are ‘either/or’ are now turning into a ‘yes, and’ conversation,” Floyd says. “So what used to be the sort of existential campaign debate about either mobilization or persuasion, I think more and more groups and campaigns are realizing that’s a false choice.” Similar debates happen over TV versus digital spending, or constant infrastructure building versus building up party infrastructures around election cycles, she adds. “I’m really excited to see people say it’s ‘both/and.’”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns whom we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at

Coming up

Infrastructure week could be coming soon! With the COVID-19 relief plan in the books, Biden plans to turn his attention to an infrastructure overhaul that could define his presidency and become a major issue in the 2022 midterms.

Photo finish

With Sen. Roy Blunt’s retirement, will Tuesday Bruce-day continue? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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