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At the Races: Policing persists as campaign issue

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.

This week marked one year since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. On Capitol Hill, talks continue on a bill to overhaul policing, and the issue is still playing out on the campaign trail. 

DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney said the anniversary of Floyd’s murder was “an urgent reminder that we all must continue working as hard as we can to pass the reforms that will prevent more tragic deaths.” But the issue is a complicated one for vulnerable House Democrats, who’ve said GOP attacks accusing them of wanting to “defund the police” hurt their campaigns in 2020. Two Democrats in competitive seats, Maine’s Jared Golden and Wisconsin’s Ron Kind, voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in March. 

Republican state Sen. Mark Moores is trying to leverage the “defund the police” issue in next week’s special election in New Mexico’s 1st District, Politico reports. National Republican groups have so far stayed out of the race, likely due to the district’s blue lean. But Democrats are giving a last-minute boost to their nominee, state Rep. Melanie Stansbury. President Joe Biden endorsed Stansbury this week. And later today, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff is traveling to Albuquerque to kick off a canvassing event.

While next week could provide some clues as to whether Democrats are struggling to respond to “defund the police” attacks, it’s also difficult to draw too many conclusions from special elections, which typically have lower turnout. In other words, as you dissect next week’s results, keep in mind that special elections are still special.

Starting gate

Filling the void: Kamala Harris left the Senate without any Black women when she became vice president. Activists looking to fill that void say North Carolina and Florida are emerging as top opportunities to elect the next Black female senators. The two-minute version of this story was also featured on our Policy Brief podcast.

Politics-free pork? That’s what Texas Democratic Rep. Colin Allred was going for when he created a bipartisan group to help him determine which earmark funding requests to submit for fiscal 2022. In all, CQ Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt reports, 31 of the 32 vulnerable Democrats in the DCCC’s Frontline program have put in requests they hope will be “somewhere between a net positive for their reelection campaigns and a neutral factor that won’t turn off undecided voters.” 

Healthy debate: Democrats and Republicans have been exchanging attacks over a House drug pricing plan the GOP says is — wait for it — “socialist,” reprising a debate that has played a key role in congressional campaigns for the last several cycles.

Pants on: After more than a year of all virtual events, in-person fundraising is coming back, including for Democrats. The DCCC has slated Oct. 29 and 30 in Miami for its chairman’s issues conference, while Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria set an event for June 15 at Agua 301, a restaurant in D.C.’s Yards Park, and Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes is planning a July 9 event at the Delamar hotel in Greenwich, among others.  

That’s Wild: You can take Rep. Susan Wild off your list of potential Senate candidates in Pennsylvania. The Democrat told CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa she’s not interested in running.

ICYMI

Voter Outreach: Touting new polling that showed 63 percent of Hispanic voters in battleground states prefer free-market capitalism to socialism, Florida GOP Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio stressed Thursday the importance of outreach to such voters in the fight for control of the Senate next year. Scott, the NRSC chairman, and Rubio, who is up for reelection next year, told reporters the survey was taken in their state and other battlegrounds, including Arizona, Georgia and Ohio. Rubio said Hispanic voters view the United States as a place of “extraordinary opportunity” and there is a “disconnect” between Democrats’ narrative on public policy and “common sense.” Scott said Donald Trump would be “helpful” and downplayed the former president’s threats to work against some incumbent Republicans.

Sunshine shuffle: Speaking of Florida, Rep. Stephanie Murphy announced this week that she won’t run for Senate after all. She did not reference the news that fellow Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings is planning to run, but Murphy noted that Rubio “will not be an easy opponent especially if it’s on the heels of a bruising primary.” Demings appears to have the primary to herself so far. Former prosecutor Aramis Ayala, who had been considering a Senate run, announced Wednesday she would run for Demings’ House seat instead.

The Senate map: In Iowa, GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley got his first Democratic challenger, with former county supervisor Dave Muhlbauer jumping in the race. In Wisconsin, state Sen. Chris Larson joined the increasingly crowded Democratic primary and Democrat Steven Olikara, who founded the Millennial Action Project, launched an exploratory committee. In Georgia, GOP state House Speaker David Ralston is reportedly considering challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. In Arizona, NRSC Chairman Scott said he believed Gov. Doug Ducey would run for Senate but noted that he wasn’t sure and that “he hasn’t said he is” running — Scott said he expects a lot of people will run. And, last but not least, Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy is signaling he’s planning to run for a ninth term.

Public disclosure: Anthony Bouchard, a primary opponent of Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, recently disclosed that when he was 18, he got a 14-year-old girl pregnant, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. The couple married, then got divorced approximately three years later, and she later died by suicide, he told the newspaper.

Don’t (pre)check that box: Sen. Amy Klobuchar and several other Democrats unveiled a bill this week that would ban political campaigns from pre-checking boxes that make a single contribution into recurring donations. It comes after the FEC unanimously voted in favor of Congress taking action to prohibit the practice. Other initial supporters of the measure include Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen. Republicans have yet to sign on to the bill. 

Taking sides: Former Speaker Paul D. Ryan headlined a fundraiser Monday for Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who has become one of Trump’s most prominent GOP critics since voting for his impeachment over the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol.

Attack ad fodder: Illinois Rep. Marie Newman has been facing questions about a lawsuit filed against her by a former campaign adviser, Iymen Chehade, who sued Newman in January claiming that she offered him a $135,000-$140,000-a-year job in her congressional office to dissuade him from running against her in the 2020 Democratic primary. He said she reneged on the contract after her primary win over incumbent Democrat Daniel Lipinski. A complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics was also filed by an outside group this week.

What we’re reading

Stu-ing: Looking back at a column he wrote less than two weeks after Election Day — in which he said the country was “in a whole lot of trouble” — Stu Rothenberg’s outlook has only gotten gloomier since. 

Watch this space: National Journal delves into the competitive primaries awaiting Democrats running for Senate next year.

Her next battle: Politico sits down with former DSCC Chair Catherine Cortez Masto as the Nevada Democrat transitions from leading her party’s Senate campaign arm to running for reelection in a competitive state. 

To run or not to run: Speaker Nancy Pelosi has hinted that this is her last term as speaker, but she hasn’t completely shut the door, fueling speculation she could ultimately seek to prolong her 18-year tenure ruling the House Democratic Caucus, CNN reports. When she does exit, Pelosi’s retirement would spark an intense battle for her safe San Francisco seat.

The AAPI vote: The Los Angeles Times delves into polling data to understand how Trump motivated Asian American voters to turn out for Biden and Harris, also boosting Democratic House and Senate candidates in key races, including Georgia’s Atlanta-area 7th District. But the trend doesn’t hold across the board — Asian American voters in California’s swingy 48th and 39th districts helped secure wins for Republicans Michelle Steel and Young Kim, who are Korean American. 

Stock scandal: The Associated Press investigates Rep. Tom Malinowski’s stock trades at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. The New Jersey Democrat’s failure to report the trades, first reported by Insider, has been the subject of two recent complaints at the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The count: $111,000

That’s how much money more than 50 House Democrats gave from their campaign accounts, leadership PACs and caucus PACs to Melanie Stansbury’s campaign against Republican Mark Moores in the special election for New Mexico’s 1st District. The total from members is nearly 8 percent of all the money Stansbury raised through May 12. Stansbury and Moores will face off Tuesday to replace Deb Haaland, now the Interior secretary, in the Albuquerque-area district, which backed Biden by 23 points last fall and reelected Haaland by 16 points.

Nathan’s notes

Less than 10 percent of the legislative seats around the country are held by people whose districts were won by the opposite party’s candidate for president, another sign of hardening partisanship that helps explain why there’s not much appetite on the Hill for crossing the aisle to craft bipartisan deals, Nathan L. Gonazles writes.

Candidate confessions

When Democrat Ben Diamond decided to run in Florida’s 13th District, an open seat now that Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist is running for governor, Diamond knew right away that he would ask Michael Magidson to be his campaign manager, he said.

Magidson, a lawyer, is Diamond’s best friend, and he helped Diamond win his post in the state House in 2016. They were also running mates on Diamond’s first campaign, which they hatched together at Diamond’s kitchen table. The team was rounded out by Diamond’s grandfather, 19-term Miami-area Rep. Dante B. Fascell, whom they called for informal advice. They also asked Diamond’s mom for help printing campaign buttons with pictures of little bikes. That was a reference to the campaign slogan, “Get on the bike with Ben and Mike!” 

“We are going to try to come up with a better slogan for this campaign,” Diamond said. “We were only in the third grade.”

Diamond and Magidson won that campaign, for class president and vice president. They were also unopposed, Diamond noted.

Shop talk: Wadi Gaitan

Gaitan, a former Capitol Hill and congressional campaign aide, serves as communications director for the LIBRE Initiative, a conservative-leaning Hispanic group in the Koch network, and as an adviser to its PAC, LIBRE Initiative Action. He worked for former Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s 2014 campaign, and was press secretary for the House GOP Conference and a press assistant for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. 

Starting out: “My household wasn’t very political,” said Gaitan, who grew up in Prince George’s County, Md. “That was never the center of family discussion.” But he felt a pull toward communications. As a student at Prince George’s Community College in 2007, he saw Sen. Barack Obama speak in the run-up to the 2008 presidential primaries. He happened upon Obama’s appearance in a parking lot on his way to his car from soccer practice. “I don’t agree with a lot of his policy or political views. I’m conservative,” Gaitan said, noting that he still found the former president an inspiring communicator. “But I do point to that time where I transitioned from being a fan of communications in general to focusing on the role that it plays in politics.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: One of his first jobs after graduating from the University of Maryland was working on Romney’s 2012 campaign as a press assistant for Hispanic media. He and his colleagues, whom he said had given the campaign their all, gathered in Boston to watch the returns on election night. “We’re working that night, pitching our surrogates but at the same time excited, nervous,” he recalled. “Losing that night is an experience I remember very vividly. Mitt Romney came out with his family, thanking everyone for the campaign. I remember that feeling of losing. It’s a memory that I use to try to motivate me in other campaigns and in the work that I do now.” 

Biggest campaign regret: Gaitan says his biggest regret is not challenging his higher-ups or more senior colleagues when he was starting out in entry-level political jobs and had a different take on strategy or ideas. “There are times when you’re new to the job, you don’t always speak up. I thought it wasn’t necessarily my place,” he said. “People do welcome new ideas and having you bring stuff to the table. It doesn’t always get included, but people respect new ideas and creativity.” His other regret: not saving more money for when he had to make quick moves across the country to work on a campaign, sometimes needing to find housing on a few day’s notice. “You really need to have some savings of extra cash for these possible opportunities that come up quickly,” he said, recalling that for one job, he ended up “couch surfing” at his cousin’s in Miami until he could secure a place. 

Unconventional wisdom: “Our job, as communications professionals, is to focus on promoting our bosses,” Gaitan said. “That’s what you get hired to do, but I do think it’s important to also remember your personal branding. You should be devoted to your candidate or your member of Congress, but you also have to make time to continue building your personal brand as a communications professional.” Social media, email lists and in-person networking can be useful to that end, he added. “You want to show the work that you do for your boss, highlight the interviews that you do or put out there an op-ed that you wrote.”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns whom we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

On the Friday before a holiday weekend, the Biden administration is releasing its fiscal 2022 budget. This is a big event in the CQ Roll Call newsroom, and if you know any reporters or editors, give them a hug (provided you’re both vaxxed).

Photo finish

Former Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, left, was remembered by CQ Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly this week as someone whose pragmatism and willingness to compromise “irked his fellow Republicans and endeared him to Democrats. But his primary aim, he said, was to get results and do the right thing.” (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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