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At the Races: ’22 race theory

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Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was about to wrap up a town hall last week in his New York district when a man interjected with a question about the way race is taught in American schools. 

“I want to know why you think it might be a good idea to teach kids that, Black and white, you’re suppressed and you’re the suppressor?” he asked.

The right-leaning New York Post’s story about the hourlong event didn’t mention all the questions that Maloney, who leads the DCCC, fielded about the economy. Instead, the headline blared, “Maloney gets schooled on critical race theory.”

The DCCC may want to school its candidates about how to respond to similar questions as the 2022 cycle goes on. Several Republican strategists have told At the Races in recent weeks that they expect the furor over critical race theory — an academic term that the right has turned into a catchall for attempts to address the country’s complicated history with race — to resonate with midterm voters at least as much, if not more, than current concerns over inflation, high gas prices and supply shortages.

NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer told reporters this morning that critical race theory “is a big liability for the Democrats who support it. That’s clear to us.”

If Maloney’s reaction at his town hall is any indication, Democrats are still working out how to respond. “I think somebody’s trying to get you all mad about this for no reason,” he said. The man who asked the question, predictably, didn’t like that answer very much. But strategists on the right apparently did. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC connected to the House GOP leadership —  circulated the New York Post article and a link to the video in an email blast to reporters this week.

Starting gate

Balancing act: Former President Donald Trump will return to Arizona this weekend. The state is a top target for Republicans looking to win back the Senate, and so far the top GOP candidates have avoided mentioning Trump in their messaging. 

Trump test: Next week’s all-Republican special election runoff in Texas’ 6th District could test the power of a post-2020 Trump endorsement. At the Races traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth-area district to check in on state Rep. Jake Ellzey, whose fundraising and spirited campaigning has helped keep him competitive against his Trump-endorsed opponent, Susan Wright. 

Second-quarter takeaways: Fundraising reports filed last week gave us the latest look at how the fight for the Senate is shaping up. Here are four takeaways from the latest filings. On the House side, Democrats facing potentially competitive reelection races in 2022 hold a financial advantage compared with their possibly at-risk GOP colleagues, as candidates and party committees gear up for next year’s midterm battle for control of the chamber.

Til death do us contribute: A joint fundraising committee controlled by California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel disclosed a donation of $7,900 earlier this year. The only problem: The reported donor had been dead for seven months.

Playing defense: Tuning out Trump-fueled Twitter attacks the same way he tuned out jeering fans when he played in the NFL, Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment in January, tells CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa he’s focused on working for his district, his reelection team and fundraising. “Everything else is just noise to me,” he said.

Ready for redistricting: CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick delves into the history of redistricting in his home state of Arizona, and writes that he expects “more of the same” after congressional lines are redrawn. Around a dozen members of Congress have direct experience with redistricting litigation in their previous lives as voting rights attorneys and state legislators, writes CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone. 

Guess who’s back: Former Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer launched her political comeback Thursday, jumping into the Senate race to take on GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who has not yet said if he’s running for an eighth term. Finkenauer lost reelection in the 1st District last fall.


Survey says: The NRCC is out with new battleground district polling today, offering a glimpse into the House GOP campaign arm’s major messaging points for the midterm cycle: inflation, rising crime and border security. “The issues we’ve been highlighting are finally starting to break through,” Emmer told reporters on a Zoom briefing. “It’s the economy, which we’ve talked about from Day One, and it’s all about how Democrat policies are causing rising prices and a higher cost of living.” He said the NRCC’s recent polling shows seven out of 10 battleground voters are concerned about rising costs.

Top targets: Emmer also offered his insight about which House Democrats he believes are most vulnerable, and those included Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Cindy Axne of Iowa. Additionally, Emmer said Republicans see ripe pickup opportunities in the seats currently held by Maine’s Jared Golden, New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas, California’s Josh Harder, among others. Though some of them do not yet have GOP opponents, Emmer said the NRCC’s recruitment operation has tracked 600 candidates who have filed to run so far (nearly double the number of candidates in the 2010 cycle), and he expects House Republicans to field more female candidates after the party’s record-breaking gains in 2020. Already, about 150 GOP women are running in House races, he said.

They’re running: Literally. In a two-minute campaign launch video, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes laces up his sneakers and runs, highlighting his biography along the way. Barnes joins an already crowded Democratic primary to take on Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who hasn’t yet said if he’s running for reelection. Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis also jumped into the Democratic race this week. 

The Scott scoop: NRSC Chairman Rick Scott joined the conservative Ruthless podcast recently to talk about the fight for the Senate, and he dished on the committee’s recruitment efforts. He said everyone’s waiting on Herschel Walker to make a decision in Georgia; there’s “still a chance” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey could run for Senate (even though Ducey has repeatedly said “no”); former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt “might be getting in;” and “there’s a chance” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan could run. Scott also said he is still imploring Grassley and Johnson to officially announce they’re running for reelection, and he thinks both will ultimately do so. 

A-OK: The Oklahoma Republican Party opted not to censure GOP Sens. James M. Inhofe and James Lankford, who is up for reelection next year. The proposed censure called for their resignations after both senators voted against overturning the 2020 electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania.  

Primary opponents: Amanda Makki, a lawyer and former health care lobbyist, formally entered the race for the open seat in Florida’s 13th District. The announcement sets up a primary rematch between Makki, who was considered national Republicans’ favorite when she ran for the seat last cycle, and the more populist Anna Paulina Luna. Luna, who bested Makki for the 2020 GOP nomination before losing to Democratic incumbent Charlie Crist, announced her bid this spring.  

#MN05: Republican Cicely Davis will seek her party’s nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minnesota’s deep-blue 5th District. Davis, who is Black, invoked pro-police messaging in her campaign video for the Minneapolis district where George Floyd’s murder by a police officer prompted protests that sometimes turned destructive.

Audience of one: Trump plans to meet next week with the Republican candidates seeking to challenge “loser RINO” Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming in an effort to winnow the field to just “ONE CANDIDATE.” The top fundraiser, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who admitted earlier this year to impregnating a 14-year-old when he was 18, didn’t get an appointment. Second-highest fundraiser Chuck Gray, a state representative, released his first first TV ad, largely devoted to praising the former president. And the anti-tax Club for Growth Action released an ad calling Cheney, who has a solid conservative voting record in the House, a “Clinton Republican.”

Waste line: The FEC filing that showed Alabama Rep. Barry Moore had named his leadership PAC “Trustworthy Republicans Always Serve Humbly” had some of us wondering whether he had thought through the acronym. Then a quick check of the freshman Republican’s profile on CQ made it all clear. Barry Moore Industries, the company he and his wife started, is a solid waste management company. “The swamp in DC has enough movers and shakers,” Moore said in an ad before the Republican primary runoff last year. “On July 14, elect a garbage man.” He won the nomination by 20 points.

Elections center: Rick Hasen and David Kaye, law professors at the University of California, Irvine, have launched the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center, according to Politico.

Committeeman?: Two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot became a political flashpoint this week, but there was no objection from Democrats to Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the only Republican nominee to the panel from a district that was competitive last cycle. Davis’ central Illinois seat could be eliminated in redistricting this fall, fueling speculation that he could run for governor in 2022, a rumor he stoked this week with a tweet.

What we’re reading

Maybe next year: Democrats always think they have a shot at Florida statewide races, and Republicans keep winning. That’s why Stu Rothenberg thinks Sen. Marco Rubio starts out ahead of top Democratic challenger Rep. Val B. Demings.

Laying down the Law: McClatchy profiles Steven Law, who leads the Mitch McConnell-aligned GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund. 

30,000 feet: The New York Times takes a big-picture look at the battle for the Senate.

On the Senate campaign trail: The Washington Examiner catches up with New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chirs Sununu as he weighs a run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. And National Journal goes to Ohio to check out Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan’s Senate campaign. 

Nothing to see here: Democrats say there is “little broader significance” to the Aug. 3 special election primary matchup between 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign surrogate Nina Turner and Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown in Ohio’s 11th District. But the “copious amounts of time and money” the party establishment has invested in stopping Turner suggests otherwise, The New York Times writes.

Poll problems: An evaluation of 2020 general election polls published this week by the American Association for Public Opinion Research found a “polling error of an unusual magnitude,” with surveys overstating voters’ preferences for Democratic candidates, especially in senatorial and gubernatorial matchups. 

Rising prices, rising worry: Republicans aren’t the only ones sounding the alarm over inflation, according to Axios. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who worked for Biden’s presidential campaign, tells Axios that she’s seeing worries about rising prices in public polls and her own focus groups. “Women voters are really experiencing it, because they’re always more focused on kitchen table economics, microeconomics,” she said.

The count: $1.5 billion

That’s how much the ad tracking firm AdImpact expects will be spent in the 2022 midterms on ads on so-called connected TV, or platforms such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV that allow viewers to stream programs. The firm projected that roughly $9 billion will be spent on digital and television ads in the midterms. “Massive increases in political expenditures show no sign of abating in 2021-2022,” read the recent AdImpact report, “given that the underlying forces that create such impressive levels of spending haven’t fundamentally changed.”

Nathan’s notes

Far from finishing last, Arkansas Republican John Boozman has gotten pretty far for a nice guy. But Nathan L. Gonzales wants to know if the two-term senator is too nice for today’s Republican Party.

Candidate confessions

Republican Karoline Leavitt, a former communications director for New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik, said this week she would run to unseat Democrat Chris Pappas in New Hampshire’s 1st District. Leavitt, a Granite State native who worked in the White House press office during the Trump administration, admitted to a local news outlet that a Twitter episode helped prompt her decision to run.

The social media platform briefly suspended her account earlier this year, Leavitt said, telling WMUR in Manchester that “the fact that our free speech in this country is literally under attack, most definitely drove my decision to run.” Though Twitter said the suspension was an error, Leavitt contended in a tweet shortly after she regained her account that it “was another purge in their ongoing effort to silence conservatives voices!”

Shop talk: Katie Martin

Martin is a veteran GOP communications operative who has worked at both the NRSC and the NRCC. She was recently named CEO of Sway Public Affairs, a new firm that is part of Big Dog Strategies. 

Starting out: Martin said she didn’t grow up in a political household, and she initially wanted to be a reporter. During college, the Michigan native interned for a local Fox affiliate and at Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard’s office. “After graduating from college, I couldn’t find a reporting job,” she said. While she was job hunting and working odd jobs at a day care center, as a waitress, and as a dance teacher, she decided to volunteer for Bouchard’s reelection race. “He ended up winning his reelect, and the next cycle ran for governor. And I was very lucky to get a job on his governor’s race, and just knew that this was the life for me” Martin said. “So [I] abandoned my dreams of being the next Barbara Walters and did politics.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I have to pick the 2018 cycle as a whole,” said Martin, referencing when she served as the NRSC’s communications director. “It was just such a crazy cycle. We started with Justice [Neil M.] Gorsuch’s nomination and then confirmation. And we all were learning how to do that process together. Then we had the special election in Alabama — that was a disaster, if I’m being kind. And then we ended the cycle with Justice [Brett M.] Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And that was, as we all know, right before the election. And I remember the conversation with pundits and just the political folks in D.C. is that there’s no way we’re going to be able to keep the majority, especially with how the confirmation went. But we kept looking at our numbers, and we knew that we were on steady ground. So we ended up making history and adding to the Republican majority in the Senate in President Trump’s first midterm. And I do have to say I love winning more than anything. And that was a good cycle because we had a lot of winning, but having ‘Cocaine Mitch’ Senator McConnell come by the NRSC on election night to tell us we all did a great job, that was pretty epic.” 

Biggest campaign regret:  “I was actually on a House race in 2010 in North Carolina, and we were one of a handful of people that lost in 2010, which is always a good memory,” Martin said with a laugh. She worked for Republican Jeff Miller’s campaign against Democratic incumbent Heath Shuler in the 11th District. “But in the small town where I was located, there was a place called Hot Dog World, specializing in, you guessed it, hot dogs. So I would say my biggest regret is not eating there more often because that place was actually really good.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “Obviously, I’ve been in D.C. for a while, and I love it here. But we live in such a weird bubble. … But it was fun after 2016 because everyone got it wrong. Media folks, operatives, everyone was fessing up to being off on what was going to happen,” Martin said. “And I feel like that lived for about a good six to eight months, and then everyone reverted back to whatever’s happening on the Hill. And we all live and die by whatever legislation is being argued about, what event is happening downtown. … We live in this culture of thinking that real people turn on C-SPAN to listen to people bicker about HR whatever. It’s just not reality. And I just think that if we could all go back to the ‘aha’ moment that we had after 2016, we probably would do ourselves a lot of good.”

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

Coming up

Polls close at 7 p.m. Central time on Tuesday in the special election runoff for Texas’ 6th District.

Photo finish

Windowpane plaid shirt, jeans, big belt buckle. Yep, that’s a Texas candidate. In this case, state Rep. Jake Ellzey, who faces Susan Wright in Tuesday’s all-Republican special election runoff for the 6th District. (Stephanie Akin/CQ Roll Call)

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