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At the Races: GOP unChened

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.

Democratic and Republican campaign operatives looked at the headlines this week and saw a country in a crisis they predicted would reverberate in the midterm elections. But the agreement ended there. 

Democrats spent the week talking about a breakdown of the GOP’s commitment to democratic principles that came to a head Wednesday with the House Republican Conference vote to oust Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position over her denouncement of Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being stolen.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when protecting democracy is no longer accepted in the Republican party,” California Democratic Rep. Josh Harder wrote in a fundraising appeal that noted Republicans are only a handful of seats away from taking the House majority. 

“While House Republicans ‘unify’ behind a toxic and backwards brand, Democrats will continue focusing on delivering relief to hardworking families and getting our economy back on track,” DCCC spokesman Chris Taylor said in one email blast Wednesday afternoon. 

But after months of poll numbers showing the popularity of President Joe Biden’s agenda, Republicans saw a counternarrative this week in the reports of rising costs of goods and services and panic buying at gas stations. 

The gas shortages in the Southeast were caused by a cyberattack on a gas pipeline. But the NRCC took the opportunity to play on fears of inflation. 

“Dem policies = economic catastrophe” one committee email read. “And Democrats’ socialist agenda is to blame!” read another. 

“Democrats own everything bad that is happening now” said James Blair, a Florida-based Republican strategist. Coronavirus lockdowns, the influx of immigrants at the Southern border and concerns about inflation, he said, reinforce Republicans’ 2020 messaging that Democrats would usher in an age of socialism. 

Starting gate

Decisions, decisions: Several House members are considering runs for higher office in states that are set to lose or gain a seat, drastically changing their congressional maps. But as they weigh running for reelection or running statewide, delays in redistricting processes mean they may have to decide their next moves before they know what their new House districts will look like. 

Weighing in: End Citizens United/Let America Vote is making its first Senate endorsements of the 2022 cycle, backing five Democratic senators.

Deadlocked: Republicans and Democrats on an evenly divided Senate committee demonstrated this week just how far apart they are on political spending, voting, lobbying and ethics laws as they deadlocked on a sweeping 800-page overhaul, while outside activists ramped up their campaigns on the measure.

Diverse focus: A trio of Democratic senators is leading a new diversity effort within the DSCC, the committee announced this week. 

200 and counting: CQ Roll Call’s Political Theater podcast took a look back as it hit Episode 200 this morning.


Battleground (literally): Army veteran Sean Parnell launched his campaign for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat this week, coming on the heels of a close loss for the House last fall to Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb. Parnell’s campaign kicked off with a three-and-a-half minute video, filmed partially at Gettysburg, in which the candidate noted, “Senate control depends on us.” Lamb, who is also seriously considering running for Senate, responded to Parnell’s video by invoking the Jan. 6 insurrection, tweeting, “Wrap yourself in our flag as much as you want, but we all know there’s only one flag you rally to.” The Hill has more on the brewing GOP Senate primary, while the Washington Examiner looks at how Donald Trump Jr., a friend of Parnell’s, could influence the race. 

In ad-Vance: Author J.D. Vance is getting closer to jumping into Ohio’s open Senate contest. The Republican launched an exploratory committee this week, according to Insider.

2024 watch (for Senate races, that is): While promoting her book on her failed presidential run, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren made it clear she won’t be making another run for the White House in three years. Instead she told Politico that she will run for another Senate term. 

Case closed: It got almost no attention, especially compared to the unsuccessful Democratic attempt to overturn freshman Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ six-vote victory in Iowa’s 2nd District, but there was also a challenge pending since January to Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood’s win by almost 5,400 votes in Illinois’ 14th District. On Wednesday, the House voted along party lines — as part of a rule to bring up two other bills for debate — to adopt a resolution dismissing the challenge from GOP candidate Jim Oberweis.

Down the middle: The NewDem Action fund, the political arm of the centrist New Democrat Coalition in the House, endorsed Cuyahoga County Councilmember Shontel Brown in the August Democratic primary to replace former Rep. Marcia L. Fudge in Ohio’s 11th District. Brown and the more progressive Nina Turner, a former state senator, have been the top fundraisers in the race. The group also endorsed former California Rep. Harley Rouda in his bid to return to Congress. 

What say you? Local newspapers are applying some public pressure to their congressional delegations over the vote to oust Cheney from her leadership spot. Case in point: The Miami Herald wants to know how the area’s local GOP members of Congress — Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Gimenez and María Elvira Salazar — voted on Cheney. “If the three Republicans voted their true conservative values, they should tell us that,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. “And if they voted with their hearts beating only for the good of this country, let’s hear that, too.”

Pioneering a practice: Pioneer Public Affairs launched its political consulting practice recently, specializing in climate policy and progressive clients. The team includes Charlie Ellsworth, a former budget aide for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer; Eric Washburn, a former top energy and environmental staffer for two previous Senate Democratic leaders; Jake Jackson, an energy and environment staffer for Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, the New Mexico Democrat who lost reelection in 2020; Brian Willis, formerly the federal press secretary for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign; and Dr. Sweta Chakraborty, founder of Adapt to Thrive. Joe Britton, a former chief of staff to New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, founded the shop.

Not moving on: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made a “five-figure digital investment” to oppose Florida’s Gimenez, who is Cuban American, in one of two Miami-area districts the GOP flipped in 2020. Gimenez, the former Miami-Dade County mayor, is promoting his bipartisan work in Washington, but the ads seek to remind voters that he opposed certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory in January. The ads also target California Rep. Mike Garcia, New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell and Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne

#TX06: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott set a July 27 date for the all-GOP special election runoff between party activist Susan Wright and state Rep. Jake Ellzey to replace Republican Ron Wright — Susan Wright’s late husband — in the 6th District.

With a little help from my friends: The Democratic National Committee and Democratic state parties reached a deal that would allow more money to flow to state parties during the midterms and created a program to funnel additional investments to historically red states.  

What we’re reading

Unintended consequences: The Republican rejection of Cheney has seen her attract at least six primary challengers, who could split the anti-Cheney vote in her at-large Wyoming district and help her keep her seat, The Associated Press reports. And it doesn’t hurt that she has raised a pile of money. 

Party time: The Washington Post explores the dilemma facing Biden and the Democratic Party with control of the Senate at stake: whether to take sides in primaries. Black candidates have also emerged as top contenders in three of Democrats’ best Senate pickup opportunities, HuffPost reports. And speaking of Democratic primaries, Politico unpacks the brewing battle to take on Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.

Grassley still runs, but is he *running*? Politico catches up with GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley back home in Iowa, where he said he’s going to make up his mind about running for reelection in the fall. 

It’s not you, it’s me: Democrats’ stunning disappointment in 2020 House races was due to an “absolute collapse” in members’ historical power of incumbency, an analysis by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics found. “Imagine if the results were that all the Republican incumbents survived, but so did all but a few of the Democrats. People would’ve been surprised by the polling miss, but it would’ve felt more like an average result,” the report noted.

Tangled web: A Republican businessman who has sold everything from Tex-Mex food in London to a wellness technology that beams light into the human bloodstream helped shape the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, according to a Washington Post investigation that also links a current member of the FEC to the story. 

White identity: FiveThirtyEight delves into how white identity has shaped American politics for conservatives — and liberals. 

Hold fire: The AP breaks down the National Rifle Association’s tossed bankruptcy bid and takes a look at what could be next for the group that for decades has held a firm grip on Republican politics.

Sorry-not-sorry: After criticism, California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, one of the first Korean American women in Congress, said she was joking when she apologized to GOP supporters for working with Democratic Rep. Katie Porter on a resolution condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The incident showed the fine line lawmakers in competitive races have to tread in hyper-partisan Washington when they work with powerful members of the opposing party, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

The count: $6 billion

That’s the value of all the earmarks in appropriations and highway bills requested by House members on either the NRCC or DCCC target lists, according to data compiled by CQ Roll Call’s Ryan Kelly (for all the requests see here and here). Topping the list for the 54 Democrats who made requests were Kim Schrier of Washington, with $902 million, followed by Sharice Davids of Kansas, with $730 million, and Brian Higgins of New York, with $599 million. Topping the list for the 16 Republicans who made requests were Beth Van Duyne of Texas, $364 million; Don Bacon of Nebraska, $166 million; and John Katko of New York, $65 million. Six targeted members made no funding requests: Porter and Steel in California and Republicans David Schweikert of Arizona, Victoria Spartz of Indiana, Ann Wagner of Missouri and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales put on a jacket and tie and stood near his fish bowl to explain why redistricting cycles are not like other elections in a video by CQ Roll Call’s Thomas McKinless that features music from George Strait and They Might Be Giants.

Candidate confessions

Second-term Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, went off this week about partisan redistricting efforts. “I believe that gerrymandering from both sides is dangerous to our ability to govern this country,” he said at a Tuesday markup of an election overhaul bill dubbed S 1. “What happens in a gerrymandered district, whether it’s gerrymandered to favor the Democrats or gerrymandered to favor Republicans, is that the primary becomes the election.”

Primary voters, King said, tend to represent their party’s activist base. “You can lose your primary if you’re viewed as a person who is willing to listen to the other side and try to solve problems,” he said. “To be a person willing to compromise is a capital offense on either side of a gerrymandered congressional district.”

King endorsed a provision in the bill, known as HR 1 in the House, that would call for independent commissions to draw congressional maps, saying that “would be healthy for the country.”

Shop talk: Josh Schwerin

Schwerin recently launched his own strategy and communications consulting firm dubbed Saratoga Strategies, a nod to his hometown in upstate New York. Schwerin is an alum of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the DCCC. 

Starting out: “Senior year of college, my brother gave me a hard time for having nothing to do over winter break,” Schwerin recalled. “This was the end of 2007, December 2007. So he convinced me to go up to New Hampshire to knock on doors for Hillary. And I had never been involved in politics before — I didn’t know who my member of Congress was, but [I] went up and fell in love with it pretty quickly. And then ended up going to volunteer in a bunch of states for Hillary throughout the campaign.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I met my fiancée on a campaign. So I should probably say that,” Schwerin said with a laugh. “But for me, it’s actually — this was not on a campaign, but it was the result of a campaign … when we passed health care. So I had worked on a special election for Scott Murphy from upstate New York, [who] replaced [Kirsten] Gillibrand. And we won an incredibly close race. And then I was in his office, advising him and helping him through his vote on health care. And the night we passed it was pretty unforgettable and will matter to me for the rest of my life. So I think it’s a reminder that we do campaigns and then govern, and actually do good.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I’m not alone on this one, but [I] didn’t take Donald Trump seriously enough early in the race in 2016. I think, if during the Republican primary we had treated him differently, it’s possible there might have been a different outcome. There’s a million things you could blame, but that’s definitely a regret.”

Unconventional wisdom: “We cannot get distracted by Trump for four years and let other Republicans rise unscathed. We saw Trump was still attacking Hillary the day before the election. And I think that’s part of why Biden had favorable numbers at the end. Trump helps us raise money, he helps us to turn out voters. We can’t let that be a distraction from the next threat. … If we focus too much energy on him and not enough on Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz or whoever the next Republican nominee is, then we might give them a free pass and let them have stronger numbers than if we keep our attention on them early.”

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Coming up

D.C. is about to buzz. That’s right, we’re talking about the 17-year cicadas that are about to descend (or ascend?) on the nation’s capital. While you might be taking sides in the great cicada debate — are you Team It’s a Wonder of Nature or Team I’m Leaving Town for a Month? — you might not know that the jumpy insects once invaded our politics. CQ Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi looks back at how cicadas landed in an attack ad aimed at John Kerry.

Photo finish

After being removed from her post as the House GOP’s No. 3 leader, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney told reporters she will “do everything I can to ensure that the former president never gets anywhere near the Oval Office.” (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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