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At the Races: Blurred lines

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We already knew that some House Democrats from Virginia were sitting on shaky electoral ground heading into the midterms, but a preliminary map out Wednesday portends seismic shifts. Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s district could be pulled out from under her, and Rep. Elaine Luria’s bid for a third term would get even tougher. Both were already on our initial roundup of the most vulnerable members, but even Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s Northern Virginia seat may be in jeopardy for the Democrats. 

The news from the Old Dominion is emblematic of the volatility and potential chaos ahead, as states work to finalize their maps. “Virginia is a great example of the uncertainty of a redistricting cycle,” our Nathan L. Gonzales noted. 

Nationwide, legal challenges abound, forcing delays and adding even more unknowns into the mix. North Carolina’s Supreme Court this week ordered a two-month delay to the state’s primaries as it sorts out allegations of partisan gerrymandering, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone​​ tells ATR.  

Recent polls have contained sobering data for Democrats, such as a Marist survey out today that showed 61 percent of Americans saying the country was headed in the wrong direction. Democrats on Capitol Hill have been in governing mode, avoiding a debt-limit debacle and passing a bipartisan defense authorization measure in the House. But Democrats aren’t in any mood to celebrate. As the defense bill nears passage in the Senate, for example, lawmakers viewed it, in some ways, as “a victory for the GOP and a disappointment to progressives,” CQ Roll Call’s Mark Satter writes.

For now, though, the Senate and much of official Washington will put their partisan politics aside to remember Bob Dole, the last of the Senate legends from World War II who died over the weekend at age 98. The longtime Republican senator, 1996 GOP presidential nominee and K Street powerbroker was remembered this morning at a service in the Capitol Rotunda. Members of Congress, congressional staff and invited guests may view his casket until 8 p.m. CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski has the full schedule of memorials.

Starting gate

Line shortened: House Democrats have updated their list of Frontline incumbents getting special party help in the 2022 midterms to reflect retirements and redistricting. The new list, shared first with CQ Roll Call, has 26 members, down from the 32 identified in March. While members in Georgia and Texas were dropped, additions were made in Nevada and Oregon.

Taking the money and NOT running: The phrase “you can’t take it with you” doesn’t apply to the campaign cash of departing lawmakers. More than 20 incumbents who have said they’re leaving after the 117th Congress — or in Rep. Devin Nunes’ case, in the middle of it — will hit the exits with nearly $53 million in combined leftover political money.

Speaking of Nunes: The California Republican, who used his position on the House Intelligence Committee to defend President Donald Trump from a host of investigations, said he was leaving Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of Trump’s nascent media business.

Looking rosy: Former New York Rep. Max Rose launched a comeback bid this week from a Staten Island district that may be redrawn to boost the Democrat’s chances.

Curtain up on Act II: On the same day that one North Carolina judge halted candidates from filing to run under the states’ redrawn House map, the Justice Department sued Texas for allegedly diluting minority voting strength in its new map. Those are signs we’ve entered the next round of redistricting, in which the courts could decide the shape of midterm battles.

ICYMI

Drawing lines: Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature approved a congressional map Wednesday that would keep seven seats arguably safe for their party, while Freedom Caucus member Andy Harris’ 1st District in the eastern portion of the state would become more competitive. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has vowed to veto the map, but it passed both chambers with enough votes for an override.

They’re with her: Progressive Jessica Cisneros racked up high-profile support for her Democratic primary challenge to moderate Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, with endorsements from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Democratic abortion rights group EMILY’s List. The NRCC seized on the endorsements, saying in a press release it was a sign that Cuellar, who is opposes abortion rights, had failed to “appease his progressive base.” But it’s unclear how much Cuellar will need to rely on progressives to win in the rematch against Cisneros in a district that has been redrawn to become slightly more conservative

Internal divide: Texas GOP Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, whose race in the Houston-area 2nd District is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, called members of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus nothing but “grifters” and “performance artists” at an event with Texas GOP congressional candidates. 

A hard place: 2020 New Hampshire GOP Senate nominee Corky Messner raised eyebrows when he summoned potential 2022 Senate candidates to a meeting in which he proposed they all come to an agreement about which of them would run and join retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc in the GOP field. Boldoc has lagged far behind Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in fundraising, and national Republicans have struggled in their attempts to attract a more formidable recruit after GOP Gov. Chris Sununu declined to run

Lindy hop: Alabama Republican Lynda Blanchard, a former U.S. ambassador to Slovenia and a major Trump donor, ended her Senate bid to run for governor. Blanchard, who rebranded herself as “Lindy,” was reportedly urged by Trump to switch races to make way for Rep. Mo Brooks, who has the former president’s endorsement in the crowded GOP Senate primary. 

They’re running: Former North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers, who lost her seat in a 2016 GOP primary after mid-decade redistricting, said this week she would run for the new 4th District, though a legal challenge to the state’s congressional map has delayed next year’s primaries and left the lines in question. Up north in New Hampshire, Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, an NRCC target who represents the 1st District, made his reelection bid official late last week. And in Virginia, Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves said he would seek his party’s nomination to challenge Wexton in the redrawn 10th District under the preliminary map. 

Will they or won’t they? Fallout from the preliminary House map in Virginia was not reserved for Democrats alone. Taylor Keeney, one of many Republicans to launch bids for Spanberger’s 7th District seat, said she was reconsidering her run. The new lines would put her home of Goochland in the 1st District of GOP incumbent Rob Wittman. “I have no intention of running against Congressman Wittman,” Keeney said in a statement. “The stakes are too high to create uncertainty.” Other Republicans running against Spanberger may be reevaluating their campaigns now, too.  

Making the list: Reps. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they both made the Bloomberg 50 list of people who shaped the world in 2021.  

Political uncertainty: Lobbyist Bruce Mehlman’s latest slide deck examines the political risks heading into 2022. He predicts “one zillion” political attack ads and the most expensive midterms ever even, he notes, as swing districts themselves become endangered.   

Some people feel that: Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt urged Trump during an interview not to endorse former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens for Senate, warning that Greitens, who resigned the office in 2018 amid a sexual misconduct scandal, would be a “nightmare” and would cost the GOP a safe seat. “Well, that’s an interesting opinion,” Trump responded. “That’s true. He’s right now leading by quite a bit.”

What we’re reading

You’re a mean one, 2021: The mood of America this holiday season definitely leans more toward the Grinch than Santa, CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett writes.

The west unwon? The New York Times used Nunes’ announcement as a springboard for a snapshot of the redistricting process in California, where a nonpartisan commission is finalizing a new map that could scramble “the fortunes of lawmakers in both parties” and create eight or nine competitive districts. 

Senate carpetbaggers? More than a half-dozen well-funded GOP candidates, including Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, “have sought out redder pastures this year, jumping into competitive Senate races in states where their local ties aren’t particularly deep,” according to Vice News.

Survey says: Next year’s midterms may find voters in a “sour mood,” according to a new poll by The Wall Street Journal, its first by Democrat John Anzalone and Republican Tony Fabrizio, lead 2020 pollsters for Joe Biden and Trump, respectively. The snapshot of 1,500 registered voters sought to “explore the forces driving American politics” and found that more voters would back a Republican for Congress rather than a Democrat, 44 percent to 41 percent. A follow-up story Wednesday teased out more bad news for Democrats: Hispanic voters, who have long favored the party, are now evenly divided in their support for Republican and Democratic congressional candidates. And speaking of polling problems: Brian Stryker, a Democratic pollster, says his party has a branding problem, in a New York Times interview.

Power shift: Politico kicks off a series about the “next great migration” of Black people out of urban centers and into the suburbs, smaller cities and “warmer areas,” potentially altering the political landscape for decades: The first installment focuses on Chicago, where Black residents are being replaced by Latinos, “forcing a realignment of [the city’s] political scene.”

Abortion on the ballot: Democrat Christy Smith, who is seeking a rematch against GOP Rep. Mike Garcia in a California district expected to be among the most competitive of the 2022 midterms, released a video focused on her decision to continue a pregnancy three years after experiencing life-threatening complications when her first baby was born. She said in an interview with Jezebel that, although she did not ultimately end the pregnancy, the experience demonstrates the importance of supporting women’s reproductive rights, an issue some Democrats think could drive voters in light of recent judicial threats to abortion rights. 

But … Politico surveys Democratic pollsters, operatives and officials and finds skepticism that a Supreme Court decision curtailing abortion rights would “dramatically alter the midterm landscape.” Even though the majority of Americans support abortion rights, strategists said voters are more likley to base their decisions on issues that they think more directly affect them. Pollster Molly Murphy said Democrats might have more luck if they move away from highlighting their own positions on abortion and reframe the debate to paint the GOP as “obsessed with” taking away the right to abortion and Democrats as focused on more pressing economic concerns. 

’21 takeaways: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University, counted down the 21 lessons she has learned about money in politics this year in a piece for the Brennan Center for Justice, including this one (spoiler alert): “Campaign treasurers need to improve their math skills.” 

The count: $28 million

That’s how much money the departing House members — Republicans and Democrats combined — still held in their political accounts at the end of September, slightly more than the $24.9 million that retiring senators had on hand. Once they leave Congress, these lawmakers will have several options for what they may do with the money, including making political and charitable donations. They face no deadline for closing out their campaign accounts or leadership PACs.

Nathan’s notes

At least a dozen current or former House and Senate members have set their sights on becoming governor next year, Nathan writes. Some are shaking up the races they’ve entered.

Candidate confessions

After repeatedly surviving competitive election battles, Nebraska Republican Don Bacon enters the new year with the race for his Omaha-area seat rated Leans Republican by Inside Elections. And in a conversation last month with CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa, he shared his disregard for the goals of “the more populist far right,” which he said could win about 160 seats, but still 50-something short of a majority, and his admiration for the way Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin won last month. 

“He talked about center-right policies — the breakfast table issues of education and security — but also, he was decent,” Bacon said. “People want a friendly guy. They want someone who’s polite and respectful, at least in our district. They don’t like the anger all the time. Well, 20 or 30 percent of people do, but the majority want someone who’s approachable, respectful and decent.”

Shop talk: Tory Gavito

Gavito is the president of Way to Win, a Texas-based network of Democratic donors and strategists. Before that, she was the founding executive director of the Texas Future Project, where she developed and financed a strategic plan to make Texas competitive statewide by 2022.

Starting out: Gavito was inspired by her grandmother, an immigrant from Northern Mexico who worked in cotton fields and as a maid in the 1940s, to pursue a legal career protecting the rights of immigrant workers. That work eventually led her to switch her attention to politics, in the hope of tackling the systemic issues contributing to her large caseloads. Since she was located in Central Texas, Gavito devoted her energy to building a “multiracial democracy” that she thought had the potential to galvanize millions of like-minded voters in the state’s major metro areas to help flip the state blue. “I see Texas as an inherently solvable math problem,” she said. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Without hesitation, Gavito cited the moment that two Georgia Senate runoffs were called for Democrats in January, giving the party the majority in both chambers of Congress shortly after Georgia and Arizona had helped send Biden to the White House. Gavito said she saw the kernels of those victories in 2016, when she was leading the Texas Future Project. Her analysis of Texas returns that year showed huge gains in the number of voters backing Democrats, even though the state saw little investment from national groups. “I realized then the entire Southwest region was up for grabs, the way that Democratic performance was moving,” she said. The analysis led Gavito to advocate more Democratic investment in a “second route” in case they lost parts of the “blue wall” states that Democrats had traditionally depended on to win presidential elections. “And so, when it came down to those final days of the counts through 2020, and when it came to the runoffs, not only did Arizona and Georgia prevent Trump from going to the Supreme Court, but they also delivered senators,” she said. “And so we’d be in a very different position right now as Democrats, without the big thinking that Way to Win and others did, to really put Georgia and Arizona on the map.”

Biggest campaign regret: Gavito’s first foray into the campaign world came in 2014, a tough midterm year for Democrats, when she was working at the Texas Future Project. “I just remember being so conscious that I was new, that it was my first rodeo,” she said. “And I had questions, lots of questions about strategy. And I caught instances where strategic choices were being made that contradicted choices from earlier in the campaign. And I kept my mouth shut because I felt a little imposter syndrome, feeling like I was the new kid and I should trust others. And at the end of the day, I really regretted it. I had a colleague tell me once, and this is a very Texas anecdote, but it fits: ‘You’ve got to deal new people in. This is politics of addition. You’ve got to set a place for new players because new players bring fresh perspectives and fresh questions.’ And I regretted not allowing myself to take that seat at the table. Even though I was sitting at the table, there was a reason I was there. … I don’t ever want to feel that way again, that I left something unsaid that needed to be said, or I left a question unasked that needed to be asked, because at the end of the day, the stakes of these races are life and death for people like my grandmother or for other communities that are bearing the brunt of poor policy decisions by a number of Republican leaders.”

Unconventional wisdom: “We know heading into 2022 that the odds are stacked against Democrats,” Gavito said. “The trend that Democrats are missing is one that we pointed to in our data analysis earlier this year, around the idea that we have a serious enthusiasm issue, in addition to erosion around traditional base supporters in the face of an incredible wave of energy that exists on the right. But just because it’s hard, just because we know we have to do more persuasion, work with Latinos, for example, or just because we know we have to find messages that really inspire our base to keep turning out, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Because history also tells us that historic trends are bucked, when there’s a great galvanizing force. And what has the last year been but a galvanizing force?”

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

Coming up

Texas candidates have until Monday to file to run for federal office. … And our own Kate Ackley will moderate an online panel of K Street all-stars on Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. Eastern time for a discussion called “Lobbying Look Ahead: Navigating the Politics of Influence During an Election Year.” Sign up here

Photo finish

The casket of the late Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is escorted up the center steps of the Capitol on Thursday as his widow, former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole watches, third from top right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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