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At the Races: Full court press

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.

The Supreme Court’s willingness to entertain overturning Roe v. Wade, which became apparent Wednesday during oral arguments on a Mississippi abortion ban, set off a flurry of responses in the campaign world. 

Democrats think the potential of a sea change in abortion laws that doesn’t reflect most Americans’ complicated views on the subject could galvanize independent voters otherwise inclined to sit out the midterms.

On the left, the House and Senate campaign committees and outside groups seized on the opportunity to blast out a series of attacks against the “dangerous views on choice” of Republican candidates, who “shared blame for continued attack on women’s freedoms,” as DCCC  press releases targeting Kansas candidate Amanda Adkins and New York Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney put it. 

But it’s unclear whether the abortion debate could cut through the steady stream of otherwise dismal news for House Democrats seeking to hold on to their narrow majority. This week, Oregon Rep. Peter A. DeFazio became the 19th chamber Democrat to announce plans to retire or seek another office, and several states came nearer to redrawing new House seats that would squeeze some of the Democrats’ strongest incumbents.

But in the Senate, where Democrats’ chances of defending their majority will come down to a handful of extremely tight races, the abortion debate could play a larger role, especially since four states with competitive races — Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Wisconsin — have passed abortion bans that could go into effect if the Mississippi law is upheld.

“A woman’s right to make our own health care choices will be a defining issue in the 2022 midterms, and for voters it will reinforce the stakes of protecting and expanding our Democratic Senate Majority with the power to confirm or reject Supreme Court justices,” DSCC spokeswoman Jazmin Vargas said. 

The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List spent $2.5 million on a television and internet advertising push around the Mississippi case, as CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger and Sandhya Raman report

Republican candidates in the most competitive races, meanwhile, largely remained focused on economic issues, with which the GOP sees a more clear-cut advantage — and one that could be more immediately top-of-mind for many families, considering a Thursday morning Gallup report that price increases are causing some degree of financial hardship for 45 percent of American households. 

“Republicans are happy to have a conversation about why Americans are paying higher prices,” read one Thursday press release from the NRCC.

Starting gate

Between the lines: With the redistricting process still underway, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports that some advocates who pushed for redistricting commissions are learning that the panels “don’t quite address gerrymandering or minority voting protections as intended.” Macagnone also looks at how the states that have drawn new maps so far have not created many new minority districts, despite growth in minority populations.

New map = less competition: CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales unveiled his House race ratings for Texas under its new map. Spoiler alert: just three House races in the Lone Star State are expected to be competitive. 

Bold moves: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, released its first four endorsements of the 2022 cycle. The endorsements, in Texas, Arizona, Nebraska and Oregon, reflect the Democratic group’s philosophy that Latinos can have an outsize impact and help swing races all across the country, not just in areas with the largest Latino populations. 

Lessons learned? The last time voters weighed in on the agenda of a first-term Democratic president whose party controlled both chambers in Congress, Democrats suffered heavy midterm losses. But Democrats say they’ve learned key lessons from those 2010 midterms, including the need to run on their major policy accomplishments, instead of away from them, and leverage the president on the campaign trail.

Senate shakeups: The GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania was upended last week when Army veteran Sean Parnell left the race. Parnell, who had former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, suspended his campaign hours after a judge granted custody of his children to his estranged wife, who had accused Parnell of verbal and physical abuse. Parnell has denied the accusations. And in Vermont, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch jumped into the open race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy. Welch quickly won an endorsement from the state’s other senator, independent Bernie Sanders

Exit plans: Two House Democrats said recently that they would not run in 2022: DeFazio, the House Transportation and Infrastructure with 36 years of congressional experience, and North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, currently in his ninth full term. Meanwhile, New York Democrat Tom Suozzi said Monday he will run for governor. And Texas Republican Louie Gohmert announced a bid for state attorney general last week.

Stacking the decks? The 45th president has endorsed nearly two dozen candidates in state attorneys general and secretary of state races across the country — all of them loyal to Trump’s view that the 2020 election was stolen from him. CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett looks at what that might mean for Trump’s possible 2024 run.


Texit: Longtime Dallas-area Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has formally announced her retirement — adding that this time she really meant it after changing her mind about running numerous times before. She then endorsed state Rep. Jasmine Crockett for what promises to be a crowded Democratic primary for her safely blue seat.

Peach State shuffle: Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath said she would switch districts after state Republican lawmakers approved a new House map that made her Atlanta-area district much more conservative. McBath’s decision to run in the neighboring redrawn 7th District sets up a potential primary against incumbent Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who said she had no plans to decamp. And emergency room physician Rich McCormick, who narrowly lost to Bourdeaux in 2020, entered the GOP primary for the 6th District seat McBath is vacating. 

There’s no place like home? The GOP Senate primary field in Pennsylvania grew this week thanks to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz jumping into the race. He quickly nabbed an endorsement from Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, according to the New York Post. Former Rep. Keith Rothfus told NBC News he is also considering entering the Republican primary. Rothfus lost his House seat in 2018 to Democrat Conor Lamb, another Senate contender this year. And Politico reports that hedge fund CEO David McCormick, a former Treasury undersecretary under President George W. Bush, is also preparing to run for the Republican Senate nomination.

Attacks fly: The GOP Senate primary in Ohio continued to heat up this week, with investment banker Mike Gibbons launching a TV ad attacking author and venture capitalist JD Vance for his past criticism of Trump. The ad is part of a $500,000 buy, and Gibbons has pledged to spend $10 million of his own money on the primary, the Washington Examiner reports. Another GOP Senate contender, Bernie Moreno, launched a $4 million TV ad buy with a spot focused on inflation. More than $14.5 million has already been spent on TV and radio ads in the GOP primary, according to the Republican ad firm Medium Buying

Smith’s switch: Former North Carolina state Sen. Erica Smith dropped out of the Democratic Senate primary last week to run instead for the House seat Butterfield is vacating. Smith, a staunch progressive, endorsed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in the Senate race.

PAC moves: LPAC, a political group that raises and spends money on behalf of female LGBTQ candidates, has added its first transgender board member with Charlotte Clymer, a former press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, The 19th reports.  

Big money: The GOP-aligned outside group One Nation, an affiliate of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, hauled in more than $170 million last year, according to a report by the Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington. Among the group’s unknown donors, several gave “eight-figure contributions,” including one who forked over $33 million, the report said.

Christmas wish list: More than 200 groups that support the Freedom to Vote Act and a voting rights bill currently in the Senate called on chamber leaders Thursday to postpone recess until the measures are passed. The groups, which include members of the Declaration for American Democracy coalition and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote that “the 2021 holiday recess scheduled to begin on December 13, 2021, should be delayed if the bills are not passed.”

Turmoil at AFP: Tim Phillips, the longtime president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, has resigned “after the Koch-backed conservative organization made clear he was no longer welcome following an internal investigation into unspecified personal impropriety,” the Washington Examiner reports. Phillips said in a statement that he had departed the organization “to focus on some challenging personal matters that require my full attention,” the Examiner adds.

What we’re reading

And the winners are … Stu Rothenberg unveils his annual awards list ofr the “best and worst” in American politics for 2021. 

The Trump primaries: Politico looks at how Trump’s endorsement may not be the be-all and end-all of GOP Senate primaries, while diving into GOP Rep. Billy Long’s effort to win Trump’s backing in the Missouri Senate race. CNN examines Trump’s behind-the-scenes push to clear GOP primary fields for his preferred candidates. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump met with Alabama Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard “and discussed a possible endorsement” if she ran for governor instead. Trump has endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks in the Senate race.

Budd’s buds: McClatchy delves into the Club for Growth’s expensive quest to bolster Rep. Ted Budd in the North Carolina’s Republican Senate primary. 

All eyes on #VA07: The Hill and NPR dispatched reporters to the mostly rural Virginia district currently represented by Democrat Abigail Spanberger to look at the crowded field of Republican challengers and what issues are top of mind for voters.

Beto copycats: The New York Times looks at groups that are completely unaffiliated with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Texas governor but that tried to capitalize on the Democrat’s fundraising push after he announced his run. 

Build what? As Democrats seek to sell their home districts on their massive “Build Back Better” plan, vulnerable Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria tells The Wall Street Journal that she talks to constituents about its individual components but has yet to speak about the plan as a “big package,” saying, “I generally just talk about defense.”

Not prime time for crime? Despite the uptick in violent crime, FiveThirtyEight predicts that crime won’t be a major talking point in the 2022 elections because it doesn’t present a clear advantage to either party. The Democratic establishment has opposed progressive calls to defund the police, and there aren’t many swing voters in the densely populated areas most likely to be affected by the trend. Republicans, meanwhile, might have so much wind at their backs that they won’t need to bring up the issue. 

Dark money dilemma: Liberal organizations that tap undisclosed donors now outspend their Republican counterparts, setting up a possible predicament for Democratic efforts to push any campaign finance overhaul, according to The American Prospect. 

Long-shot attack? The Center for Public Integrity’s Carrie Levine explores a new legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act and whether it stands a chance. 

The count: 13.9%

That’s how many more S&P 500 companies gave their boards of directors oversight of political spending in the past year, a sign corporations recognize how public perceptions about donations can affect their bottom lines, CQ Roll Call’s Ellen Meyers reports.  

Nathan’s notes

Partisanship isn’t what’s wrong with politics right now, it’s the attitude that “it’s not enough to disagree with a political foe about policy. You have to discredit, demonize and destroy that person as a human being,” Nathan writes.

Candidate confessions

Dr. Oz, as we noted above, is running for the Republican nomination in Pennsylvania’s open Senate race. In an interview this week on Fox News, the celebrity doc addressed his residency situation, and we’re not talking about his medical residency. “I grew up just across the border south of Philadelphia,” the longtime New Jersey resident said. “I went to medical school at Penn in Philadelphia. I went to business school at Wharton in Philadelphia. I met and married my wife, which was the best thing I ever did, 36 years ago in Philadelphia and I bore two children, or she bore them for me, in Philadelphia.”

“I came home a year ago,” he added. “It feels good to be back. I love the state, and I’ll represent it honorably.”

As for why he’s running, Oz told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he thinks “this country has all the building blocks to be spectacular. The infighting is hurting our ability to do what’s possible. I know as a physician that when you come together, you save lives. I think we can do the exact same thing in this nation.”

Shop talk: Patrick Burgwinkle

Burgwinkle recently joined the DSCC as a senior communications strategist. He has also served as communications director for End Citizens United and is an alum of the DCCC, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, the Arkansas Democratic Party and the DNC.

Starting out: Burgwinkle traces his “political awakening” to the start of the Iraq War, which he opposed. As a high schooler, the Lancaster, Mass., native interned for state Sen. Jamie Eldridge. When Sen. John Kerry ran for president in 2004, Burgwinkle went door knocking in New Hampshire “like a good Massachusetts Democrat,” he said. Burgwinkle studied political science in college and was energized by the 2008 presidential race. After graduating in 2009, he landed his first job in politics running Eldridge’s first reelection race in 2010. Eldridge won that race and still serves in the state Senate. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Election Day in 2012,” Burgwinkle said. He was on the DNC’s “Gotta Vote” swing-state bus tour for 40 days before Election Day. “Definitely something you can do at 24 that you don’t want to do at 34,” Burgwinkle joked. “I knocked on some doors in Cleveland, where I had the best interaction with a voter I’ve ever had,” he said. He recalled a man approaching him and asking, “‘Why do we have to do all the voting in Ohio? Aren’t any of the other states voting?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, the other states are voting, but Ohio is really important. You guys are a swing state. So California is going to do its thing, but we really need you to vote.’ … And so he made a plan to go vote.” The bus drove to Toledo and then to Chicago for President Barack Obama’s victory party. “We were going through the magnetometers as they were calling Ohio for the president,” Burgwinkle recalled. “So everyone started chanting, ‘O-H-I-O!’ And it was just a very cool day in general.”

Biggest campaign regret: “This goes back to the state Senate race I ran. I had no idea what I was doing from the beginning so it was a real trial by fire. And in general I figured it out, and it went fine, but this is a great example of just being a dumb kid who didn’t know what he was doing and should have asked first,” Burgwinkle said, noting that he was in charge of ordering the campaign’s lawn signs. “I dropped like a couple thousand dollars on just hilariously tiny yard signs,” he said. “So I had to go to state Sen. Eldridge, who was very gracious and cool about it, despite how dumb it was, and I was like, ‘I’m really sorry I screwed this up, now you have all these tiny signs with your name on them.’ And so I wish I had done more research on how lawn signs are actually sold from this particular vendor, so that I would have ordered the correct size and avoided that embarrassment. But that’s definitely a big regret.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Young people in politics are often very concerned about joining the correct campaign, or maybe being worried about making sure that they pick a winning campaign versus a losing campaign,” Burgwinkle said. “And as someone who has definitely lost more races than he’s won, I would just say work on a hard race or work on a race with a candidate that you actually care about. And just do a good job, work hard, be a good co-worker, and you’ll continue to rise and doors will open for you. Especially when you’re starting out, it’s never going to be the field organizer’s fault or the press assistant’s fault or the finance assistant’s fault that somebody lost. Just working hard and doing a good job is way more important than your win-loss record. And then someday you’ll grow up and flip the House for Democrats.”

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Coming up

Yes, it’s still 2021, and there’s probably still leftover turkey in the fridge. But on Monday, candidates can start filing to be on the March 8, 2022, primary ballot in North Carolina — even as litigation ramps up over the newly drawn House districts that retiring Rep. Butterfield called “racially gerrymandered.”

Photo finish

Supporters and opponents of abortion rights rally Wednesday outside the Supreme Court before the start of oral arguments in the challenge to a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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