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At the Races: Sinematic

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There must be something about Arizona that makes its senators the ones to always shoot down party priorities at dramatic moments. 

The stage was set Thursday for Senate Democrats, after two attempts were stymied last year, to finally get the ball rolling on bills to set federal voting rules. The House had passed a shell bill giving them a way to begin debate shortly before President Joe Biden was to speak to his party’s senators at lunch. 

But like her Republican predecessor John McCain did with the GOP’s health care bill in 2017, Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema took to the floor to say thumbs-down to weakening the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for ending debate on legislation — even legislation on the voting rules she said she supports.

It’s not a new position for her, but her forceful reiteration that she wouldn’t agree to a “carve-out” for voting rights bills leaves little path forward for the legislation.

Her argument for across-the-aisle deal-making may have appeal in the Grand Canyon State, which flipped from a 4-point victory for Donald Trump in 2016 to a Biden win by three-tenths of a point four years later.

But Republicans have shown no indication they are willing to play along with much of the Democratic agenda, and they have little incentive to do so. They have spent the entire cycle building a narrative of Democratic ineptitude, a perception that has likely contributed to the president’s 33 percent job approval rating in a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. 

Sinema also does not have to deal with any voter reaction for a while. Though a PAC is already trying to raise money for a primary challenger in 2024, her Democratic colleague Mark Kelly is the one on the ballot this year.

After Sinema’s speech, South Dakota Sen. John Thune summed up the choice now facing the Democrats: “The question is, when do they want to lose?”

Starting gate

No limits: Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson will let voters decide whether to hold him to two terms. Setting up one of the most competitive races of the cycle, Johnson said that while he would have preferred to have stuck to his pledge that his 2016 campaign would be his last, he’s running again to stop Democrats’ “disastrous policies.”

Passing the torch: Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter won’t seek a ninth term this November, making him the 26th House Democrat this cycle to announce plans to retire or seek another office rather than run for reelection. His exit opens up his Denver-area seat that is likely to remain in party hands but that Republicans view as winnable. And Indiana Rep. Trey Hollingsworth this week became the 12th House Republican to head for the exits.

Midterm plotting: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to do more to challenge political hard-liners this year. “We have to be as loud as the extremists,” CEO Suzanne P. Clark said this week. The group’s Neil Bradley noted that it was “way too early” to offer details about which races and how much money the chamber plans to invest in the midterms. 

Nine months later: Florida Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a wealthy businesswoman who self-funded her campaign and promised to fight for monthly $1,000 checks, won the special election to fill the seat that’s been vacant since April, when Democratic Rep. Alcee L. Hastings died. She outlined her goals in Congress in a Q&A for CQ Roll Call. 

ICYMI

They’re running: New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski announced this week he is running for a third term in what is expected to be a tough race in a redder seat. Former “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken joined a crowded Democratic primary for the North Carolina seat left open by retiring Democratic Rep. David E. Price. Army veteran Jeremy C. Hunt jumped into the GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. in Georgia’s 2nd District. On the Senate side, Thune, the minority whip, confirmed over the weekend that he will run for reelection. In Louisiana, progressive activist Gary Chambers, who finished third in the Democratic special election primary for the 2nd District in April, is running for Senate against Republican incumbent John Kennedy. New Hampshire state Senate President Chuck Morse has entered the GOP primary race in hopes of ultimately taking on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, while fellow Republican Kevin Smith, the soon-to-be former town manager of Londonderry, appears poised to get in on the Granite State contest, too, according to a local news report.

Making it official: Businessman David McCormick is officially in for the packed Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Pennsylvania Democrats had filed a Federal Election Commission complaint saying McCormick’s use of an exploratory committee was a violation. They also complained that another Republican in that race, Mehmet Oz, was getting improper corporate help from entities affiliated with his television show. 

RNC v. NYC: Saying it would “dilute the votes” of citizens and require the party to “adjust their strategies about how they allocate resources,” the Republican National Committee has sued to block New York City from allowing noncitizens to vote in local elections, CQ Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyank reports.

Coming soon to a courthouse near you: A lawsuit that argues that North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn should not be on the November ballot because of a post-Civil War amendment barring anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution “will be the first of many,” the director of the group backing the challenge, Ron Fein of Free Speech for People, tells The Associated Press.

Behind the tinted glass: CQ Roll Call’s Laura Weiss found that this cycle’s biggest campaign donor to House Ways and Means Chair Richard E. Neal would also benefit from renewable energy tax credits for a specific type of adjustable-tint window glass that was included in the $2.2 trillion social safety net and climate package House Democrats passed in November.

Maps! Maps! A North Carolina court upheld the state’s new congressional map in a ruling that rejected allegations that the GOP-drawn lines represented “extreme partisan gerrymandering,” but the decision is likely to be appealed, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. The Ohio Supreme Court tossed out the state’s legislative maps in a ruling Wednesday, while a challenge to the state’s new congressional map is still pending. Kentucky pushed its candidate filing deadline to Jan. 25 to give lawmakers more time to finish congressional and legislative maps, which went to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk on Saturday. 

On the left: Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum is facing a well-funded primary challenge from her left from Twin Cities activist Amane Badhasso. The contest represents the first major bid against McCollum in her 21-year career and the latest test to Democratic voters’ appetite for progressive primary challenges, The Intercept reports.

Polls! Polls! The management of the coronavirus pandemic has started to recede in Americans’ minds, replaced by concerns about the economy and personal finances,  according to a poll released Monday byThe Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The former issue favored Democrats, the latter Republicans. But Republicans also got a bit of bad news in the form of a USA Today/ Suffolk University poll that found their advantage on the generic ballot — which was 8 points in November — has vanished as voters who had said they would vote for Republicans are now undecided. But that didn’t translate to a boost for Democrats on the generic ballot, and Biden’s approval rating remained low.  

Leading the PAC: Harriet Hageman, a Trump-backed Wyoming Republican seeking to oust incumbent GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, has formed a leadership PAC dubbed the 1890 PAC (Wyoming became a state in 1890). Leadership PACs, which were once extra fundraising vehicles for members in leadership, are now common among rank-and-filers. An Issue One report from 2018 found that more than 90 percent of all House members had one. Some, like Hageman, apparently aren’t waiting to be elected.

Virginia shuffling: Tina Ramirez, who had been running for her party’s nomination in Virginia’s 7th District but dropped out after the commonwealth finalized its maps, said this week she would run for a state Senate seat in 2023. Republican Gina Ciarcia, a teacher and military spouse, announced a bid for the 7th District, currently held by Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. The district’s new lines favor Democrats. 

Stamp of approval: The Black Lives Matter PAC endorsed three candidates recently, including its former senior adviser Angela Angel, who is running in Maryland’s 4th District and previously served in the state legislature. Shalomyah Bowers has taken on the PAC’s senior adviser role. The group also endorsed Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial bid in Georgia and California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber.  

New districts: Daily Kos Elections is charting how new districts line up with old ones in every state.  

What we’re reading

Stu says: If things really break their way, Republicans could end up with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate after the 2024 election, Stu Rothenberg writes.  

Building an argument: RealClearPolitics obtained audio from a call Speaker Nancy Pelosi had with House Democrats in which she told them to avoid calling the Build Back Better legislation “sweeping,” advising instead that they just say it lowers costs. This was one of a stream of recent reports mining vulnerable Democrats’ public statements to determine that they aren’t spending much time trying to sell the BBB package to voters, though they are talking about its original components, and some outlets, like National Journal, point out that one challenge to running on the package is the uncertainty surrounding its final form.

Not entirely divided: The New York Times rolls out a new series featuring focus groups with voters across the country. In the first installment, separate groups of Democrats and Republicans, moderated by pollsters Margie Omero and Kristen Soltis Anderson, expressed the typical divergent viewpoints, but also some “surprising” commonalities, including in their impressions of — and some empathy for — the Americans who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Campaign lessons: The political fallout from education disruptions in the pandemic has become a concern for Democrats, The New York Times reports. Some liberal parents have soured on Democrats over the handling of school closures, according to pieces in The Atlantic and Politico.  

Crime in the campaign: The Atlantic reports that new data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms suggests that massive increases of gun sales caused the rise in homicides in 2020. The increase in violent crime has been a major talking point for the GOP so far this cycle, with Republicans attempting to blame Democrats for their calls for police overhauls during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Democrats have since shifted, calling for more federal funding of police departments. The ATF data likely gives them another response to the GOP attacks. 

Politics in gray: Democratic Rep. Katherine M. Clark gave up dyeing her hair during a chaotic personal and professional period in 2015 and was astounded to discover that the decision was quickly seen as a political liability, she tells WBUR. “America has been led almost exclusively by gray-haired men,” the Massachusetts lawmaker says. “But as a woman, my career seemed to be hanging in the balance because I was going natural. … Seven years later, contrary to the many warnings I received, my gray hair hasn’t stopped me from being reelected or serving my constituents.”  

The count: 9 points

That’s how much Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s approval rating from state Democrats exceeds his approval from Maryland Republicans in a poll released this week by Gonzales Research & Media Services. Is it any wonder Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing Hogan to run against Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen this year?

Nathan’s notes

The eight Senate seats in play this year may be evenly split between the two parties, but Democrats hold four of the five most vulnerable ones, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Candidate confessions

Cherfilus-McCormick, the House member-elect from Florida’s deep-blue 20th District, had fighting words for any of her opponents from November’s special election Democratic primary planning to challenge her again this year. In an interview with CQ Roll Call this week, she pointed out that she was among the lesser-known candidates in the 11-person primary field, and several of her competitors were current or former local office holders who had to give up their seats to run. This time, she said, she would have an incumbency advantage. 

“Last time when they ran, they had the power of their seats,” she said. “They had years of experience. They had money. They raised a whole bunch of money, which they said equated support. … Now everybody’s running without being an elected official, except for me. So if I can whoop you without being an elected official, guess what: I’m going to do it again. I will whoop you this time twice as hard.” 

Cherfilus-McCormick, who largely funded her campaign through $5.9 million in loans from her personal wealth, won the special election primary last November by five votes.

Shop talk: Mollie Binotto

Pittsburgh-area native Binotto managed the reelection campaign of New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the undercard to Virginia in last year’s election messaging lab test. She previously worked as gubernatorial director for EMILY’s List and campaign manager for New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill, and managed or worked on the campaigns of a Maryland House candidate, a Virginia state senator, a New Jersey mayor, former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, and the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Starting out: “I picked up my first clipboard as a field organizer for Barack Obama’s campaign for change, in Montana [in 2008]. I was a fresh-out-of-college grad, right before … the economy crashed in the middle of that campaign. I’d just left my first-ever job answering phones for a public affairs firm from Washington. And I get to Montana, and I’m knocking on doors and registering voters, and I was really impassioned, by the message of the Obama campaign and in the work we were doing. … Reflecting on that now, so many years later, and given what the state of our democracy is, I see how important that organizing work is for voter turnout, registration, and making sure people understand how to vote. So I loved it.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I feel like I’m cheating because I’ve definitely been reflecting on him a lot, but I think the most incredible, unforgettable campaign moment was getting the call from headquarters in Las Vegas that we reelected Sen. Harry Reid in 2010. We were watching the results come in nationally, being out west, just loss after loss, and we weren’t sure if we were going to hold the U.S. Senate. And then the early vote numbers came in for Washoe County, which was Reno, and I was … the field director at the time, and it was my job to make sure turnout turned out. It was my job to make sure that we delivered those numbers. And getting the call that he was going back was a life-changing moment.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “Not leaning into managing sooner. As a woman in the field, I think I’ve come up in a really interesting time where now there’s more and more women who are managers, … the best example being Jen O’Malley Dillon, who just led Biden’s campaign in 2020. But there wasn’t exactly an example of who to follow. I was lucky to be inspired by some incredible women like Stephanie Schriock, who was president of EMILY’s List when I worked there, and she had managed two U.S. Senate candidates. And Sarah Benzing, who is chief of staff for Sen. Sherrod Brown. These were women who ran campaigns when I was in the early stages of my career. And I was told by two women to get out there and lead and to manage, but I actually stuck with the old, which was the turnout operations and the state party work, for a much longer period of time. So I just wish I’d done it sooner. I have no regrets working for Sen. Tester on the Hill, but I had an opportunity to manage in 2011, and I waited. And what I would say to women out there is ‘Don’t doubt yourself. If you feel like you can lead, then find good mentors, find people who are going to teach you, and then just go do it.’”

Unconventional wisdom: “Always challenge assumptions on your team to make sure that you’re getting to the right strategy. … On campaigns, you usually have a large team of directors you consult, and you have polling. And I think it’s just really important to always ask questions and challenge assumptions because you want to make sure that, if you hope to win, you have not left any stone unturned. One of my friends always says about me that I’m a person who always runs campaigns like I’m 10 points down and I’m scared. And I think that in the same vein, you need to believe that you can lose the thing at any time.”

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

Coming up

Trump rallies Republicans on Saturday at the Canyon Moon Ranch in Florence, Ariz., where CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett says he’ll find Republican candidates eager to get his backing.

Photo finish

Congressional staff and visitors pay their respects Wednesday to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as he lies in state at the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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