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At the Races: Don’t Manchin it

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.

Democrats’ signature overhaul of election, campaign finance and ethics laws hit a giant, if entirely predictable, snag in the Senate this week, after Democrat Joe Manchin III said he would oppose it. Still, that didn’t stop advocates from descending on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, pushing for the measure, dubbed the For the People Act, which cleared the House this spring.

That message has taken on a fresh sense of urgency. Supporters say they want to enact the overhaul, given the bill numbers of S 1 and HR 1, before the 2022 midterm elections to undo new GOP-backed state laws that roll back some pandemic-era election practices such as early voting and widespread balloting by mail.

Senate supporters, including Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock, who is up for reelection next year, were among those who championed the bill at Wednesday’s rally. “It was really rousing; people were really excited,” Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy coalition, told At the Races. Her coalition is continuing to mobilize in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, and some groups, including End Citizens United and Let America Vote, are running spots on TV and radio there, according to recent ad trackers

As it stands, Democrats and their outside-group allies will have to decide whether they want to try to cobble together a slimmer package that would address — read: supersede — the GOP state laws by setting minimum nationwide standards, such as for early and by-mail voting. But so far, activists pushing for the 800-plus-page overhaul say they are unwilling to leave any of it by the wayside.

The debate is likely to spill into next year’s House and Senate races. Read on for more from our own Stu Rothenberg about what he thinks Democrats should do as the midterms approach.

Starting gate

The Trump factor: Former President Donald Trump’s recent endorsement in the competitive Republican primary for North Carolina’s open Senate seat is the latest sign that he’s looking to wield his influence in battleground states.

Best Budd-ies? Trump said Rep. Ted Budd has “always been with me,” explaining his decision to endorse the North Carolina Republican’s bid for Senate. But Budd did break with the Trump administration on a handful of issues.

Menu misfire: When you invite Muslim voters to a pork barbecue, you’re not doing outreach right. But as CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone writes, campaigns and pollsters are sometimes challenged because voter data is not precise.

PAC people: Business PACs, many of which paused donations earlier this year amid fallout from the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, have begun to send more money to lawmakers, including to the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the presidential election results of some states. Still, PAC money is down, a CQ Roll Call analysis of campaign finance data shows.

Payback: Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz won a court case recently, striking down a provision in a campaign finance law that had made it tougher for candidates like him to recoup from donors the money candidates paid out of their own pockets to their campaigns.  

Hot ticket: Betting that climate change will be at the top of voters’ minds in 2022, the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund tells CQ Roll Call that its first endorsements of the cycle are going to nine incumbent senators — all Democrats.


Getting crowded: Rep. Val B. Demings launched her Senate run in Florida this week, and EMILY’s List endorsed the Democrat this morning. But Demings wasn’t alone. Former Rep. Alan Grayson appeared to also jump into the Democratic primary, tweeting, “Grayson vs. Rubio — it’s on!” with a link to a fundraising page. Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell joined the Democratic race last week. And another Democrat, Cuba activist Al Fox, said he was thinking about running against Rubio as well. 

They’re in: GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler launched her campaign for Missouri’s open Senate seat this morning. In Georgia, Republican Gary Black, the state agriculture commissioner, jumped into the Senate race. Katie Britt launched her bid for the GOP nomination for the open Senate seat in Alabama, where she is looking to replace her former boss, retiring GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby. In Arizona, retired National Guard Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire joined the GOP Senate primary.

A gamble? NRSC Chairman Rick Scott told The Associated Press that he would “actually be surprised” if former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt doesn’t run for Senate. 

Keystone development: Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan announced this week that she will not be running for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, saying in a statement that she will instead run for reelection to the House.

Lessons learned? A post-2020-election analysis commissioned by the left-leaning Third Way, The Collective PAC and Latino Victory Fund found that Republican efforts to brand Democrats as radicals who wanted to keep the country shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic worked and that Democrats need to do a better job of persuading voters of color.

What insurrection? Fox News declined to air an ad from a liberal political action committee that featured accounts from Capitol and D.C. police about the physical attacks they faced from Trump supporters on Jan. 6 along with pictures of Republican leaders Leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and the closing caption “The GOP Betrayed America.”

Back to business: Legistorm, the congressional staff data tracking service, found that Republicans have largely returned to in-person town-halls, while Democrats are still hesitant. 

Boots on the ground: The DCCC, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has launched a seven-figure organizing effort in battleground districts across the country. The committee described the investment in media reports as earlier and larger than any it had made before, and said it will focus on better engagement with communities of color.

Sticky fingers: The accidental release of an email chain between a campaign aide for former Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda, who is seeking a rematch against California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, and DCCC operatives provided a glimpse of internal deliberations about how Democrats talk about Trump.

Rallying allies: Fair Fight Action, a group founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, is leading an effort to activate young voters of color in support of congressional Democrats’ sweeping elections, campaign finance and ethics overhaul, CBS News reports. The campaign will be dubbed Hot Call Summer, a nod to its goal of driving calls to senators. 

Bipartisan props: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doling out accolades for bipartisanship to lawmakers next week at its second annual Governing with Distinction ceremony, aimed at fostering comity in the Capitol. The Chamber is giving nods to Sens. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, and Jacky Rosen, a Nevada Democrat, as well as to four potentially vulnerable House members: Nebraska Republican Don Bacon, Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.   

What we’re reading

Deal with it: Democrats may be fuming that new voting rules in GOP-run states are unfair, but Stu Rothenberg says that if they can’t overturn them in Congress — a prospect that grew more unlikely this past week — they need to get busy figuring out their messaging and mobilization strategies for the midterms 17 months away.

In your inbox: Insider looks at 190 fundraising emails the NRSC sent out over the course of one month and finds one dominant theme: Trump. 

Multimillion-dollar ‘misunderstanding’: The Daily Beast examines how state GOP committees are starting to fix their failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in transfers they supposedly received from Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee that allowed donors to write bigger checks.

No pressure: The Los Angeles Times unpacks the 2022 midterm dynamics facing Democrats, who have “little room for error.” 

Marco, POTUS? NBC News delves into Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s run for a third term and his 2024 ambitions

Borderline: While the GOP has made a hard-line approach to immigration central to its 2022 messaging strategy, South Florida Republican Reps. Carlos Gimenez and María Elvira Salazar have taken a more nuanced stance, Politico reports. Both are Cuban Americans who flipped their Miami-area seats in 2020 partly through attracting support from Latino voters. Meanwhile, Cuellar, who represents a Texas border district, urged President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to visit the southern border. 

Keeping it weird: The Austin American-Statesman takes a close look at what could happen if the Austin area gets one of the two new congressional districts that Texas is gaining in 2022. 

Party of grievance: Trump’s groundless grievances over the 2020 election may cloud Republicans’ policy agenda messaging as the party seeks to reclaim majorities in Congress, according to The Associated Press.  

Operation, deadlock: Democrats on the Federal Election Commission have begun a stealth effort to deadlock the agency, The New York Times reveals. The goal appears to be to get federal courts to fill the breach when it comes to policing federal election law.

The count: $7.2 million

That was the average fundraising haul for female incumbents of color in competitive House general election races in 2020, according to a new report on gender, race and political money by OpenSecrets researchers Sarah Bryner and Grace Haley. Minority female incumbents outraised incumbent white women ($5.9 million), incumbent white men ($5.2 million) and incumbent minority men ($6.1 million). But excluding incumbents, female candidates of color typically lagged behind white female candidates, Bryner and Haley concluded. White female candidates received more early money, collecting about $380,000 in 2019, on average, than Black female candidates, who collected a little more than $100,000, on average, in 2019.

Nathan’s notes

Now that the New Jersey and Virginia primaries are over, Nathan L. Gonzales takes a look at Republicans’ chances in the governor’s races and at the tendency to portray the states’ off-year elections as some kind of bellwethers for the next presidential contest.

Candidate confessions

Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson said in a recent interview with the Milwaukee Press Club that he still hasn’t decided whether he’s running for a third term next year. 

“I haven’t made that decision. I don’t feel any pressure to make it, really, anytime soon,” Johnson said. “I have plenty of time. One of my points is these campaigns are way too long. They spend way too much money. So I’m doing the Wisconsin public a favor. I’m actually probably doing anybody who might want to run for this seat a favor too, just [by] delaying this campaign. We’ll have plenty of time.”

Johnson said he did not feel pressure to make a decision by August, which would be one year before the GOP primary. He did say, “I’m not going to press this so far that, if I decide not to run, another Republican candidate doesn’t have a really good chance to retain the seat in Republican hands.”

Shop talk: Jeff Roe

The founder of the Republican consulting firm Axiom Strategies, Roe is known for bare-knuckled, data-driven campaigns at the congressional, Senate and gubernatorial levels. He ran Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

Starting out: “I grew up on a family hog farm in rural Missouri, and I figured politics was the only thing dirtier than raising hogs,” Roe said. “My grandmother was active in local politics. And she took me to political events, and I thought it was pretty cool that every politician coming to town knew her name and knew that she was the one that would get Republican women activated in Linn County, Missouri.” Roe wrote a political column for his college newspaper and was excited by what he describes as the “outrage” he could stoke in his professors. He later worked for Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, who was a state lawmaker at the time, while supplementing his $20,000-a-year salary through work as a college baseball umpire. When Graves launched his first congressional bid and his brother Todd ran for state treasurer in 2000, they both wanted Roe to work for them. Roe had just gone to Major League Baseball umpire school but realized the time had come to choose a path. “I chose politics,” he said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Graves’ House race was among the most competitive in the country during the 2000 cycle. The NRCC was heavily invested and gave the campaign opposition research on the Democratic nominee, Steve Danner, Roe said. The team hadn’t decided whether to use it until a debate on the Monday night before the election. Roe told Graves to watch for a hand signal from him. When Graves made the accusation — involving unpaid debt to a local hospital — Danner’s wife stood up from the front row. “That’s not true,” she said. “That’s a different Steve Danner.” She was right, Roe said. The debt belonged to another man by the same name who was among the 5,000 people who lived in the same town. “It was a, ‘Holy smokes, this isn’t good,’” kind of moment, Roe said. Graves didn’t take a lot of questions after the debate, but the campaign doubled down, never apologized and won by 4 points. “There was no backing up,” Roe said. “It was a classic lesson in politics. And that’s why I now own my own opposition research company.”

Biggest campaign regret: As Trump’s campaign began picking up steam during the 2016 presidential primary, Roe made a deal with fellow GOP operative Jeff Weaver, the chief strategist for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, to try to stop Trump’s momentum. “We were going into Indiana, and we needed Kasich to drop out, and he wouldn’t drop out, unbelievably,” Roe said. Roe agreed to leave New Mexico and Washington for Kasich if he would make way for Cruz in Indiana. Roe sent out the press release while sitting behind home plate at a Houston Astros game. Reporters saw him on the live television broadcast with a Cruz for president sticker on his laptop  and assumed he was trying to attract extra media attention. Trump, meanwhile, seized on news of the collaboration as “a horrible act of desperation, from two campaigns who have totally failed.” It quickly became clear that the plan hadn’t worked, Roe said. “It just looked bad. It was dumb.”

Unconventional wisdom: In spite of all the options available to campaigns trying to reach voters, Roe said the best way to persuade people is face-to-face. “The most powerful moment in American politics is having your neighbor tell you at your doorstep who they are going to vote for,” he said. “That will beat the pants off any television ad, digital placements or direct mail piece, or any other form of voter contact. … Republicans would just prefer to run television commercials. It’s easier. It’s simpler to monetize. But it’s not as effective.”

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

Coming up

After winning a New Mexico special election last week by 25 points, Democratic Rep.-elect Melanie Stansbury will be sworn in Monday evening to the seat left vacant when Democrat Deb Haaland became Interior secretary (her farewell speech is here). That will bring Democrats’ majority in the House up to 220-211 with four seats still vacant.

Photo finish

As this blowup figure at a Declaration for American Democracy protest outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday symbolizes, Sen. Joe Manchin III’s stated opposition let some air out of efforts to pass a sweeping voting rights, ethics and campaign finance package. Activists pledged to keep pushing for passage. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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