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At the Races: Cracking the midterms

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.

If there is one thing Democrats eager to tout their accomplishments in the months before the midterm elections don’t need, it’s another logjam over funding the government. 

Senate negotiations on a House-passed temporary spending bill to prevent a partial government shutdown on Saturday, which were still dragging on as this newsletter went out, have given Republicans a national platform for demands covering topics like vaccine mandates, an uproar in the right-wing media over a misleading report that claimed the government planned to pay for crack pipes and a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets. 

The impasse has also taken time from the Senate schedule just before next week’s recess, when Democrats would prefer to get on with the business of confirming a Supreme Court justice and attempting to salvage something from their “Build Back Better” plan. 

Vulnerable Democrats in the House, meanwhile, complained that relying on temporary spending measures, rather than doing the hard work of negotiating a full-year funding deal, was an irresponsible way to fund the government anyway, CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports. A subtext in their argument: Members in competitive districts rely on bringing money home, and that won’t be released until a fresh appropriations package is finished. 

But Republicans have continued to demonstrate how little interest they have in cooperating on anything that would counter the GOP’s depiction of an inept Democratic administration. 

Consider their boycott of Senate Banking Committee meetings on Federal Reserve nominees this week, or Sen. Rick Scott’s technical objection that delayed the passage of a largely bipartisan postal reform package. Scott, of course, is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Democrats have tried to call out Republicans for tactics they say are purely political. 

A spokesman for Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer issued a statement blasting Scott for playing “political games” that belied Republicans’ claimed interest in bipartisanship, saying the postal service overhaul was held up because of “a minor clerical error.” 

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison held a press conference to draw attention to the “political stunt” to block federal reserve nominees he said were needed to “get to work to tackle inflation and give working families some relief.”

Starting gate

Mask attacks: Blue state governors have lifted requirements that people wear masks indoors as Republicans have tried to tap into pandemic fatigue to attack Democrats for being hypocritical on the issue. But with months to go before Election Day and the possibility for the pandemic dynamics to change before then, it’s not clear how damaging the attacks may be.

Loyalty test: The leading candidates in the March 1 primary to replace retiring GOP Rep. Kevin Brady are arguing over whether Republicans who have pushed back against baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen are traitors or simply wrong. The race, in a Solid Republican House district north of Houston, is an early indication of where fault lines will emerge in Republican primaries dominated by candidates competing to show allegiance to Trump.

Rice retires: New York Rep. Kathleen Rice announced she would not seek a fifth term, becoming the 30th House Democrat to retire this year. Rice voted against Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in 2019, and Pelosi said in a statement that Rice “will be missed” and “has brought a strong and independent voice to the Congress for her Nassau community.”

Nope: South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham had some advice on “ABC News Sunday” for former President Donald Trump: Stop looking backward or it will hurt your chances in 2024. CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett says that based on email blasts Trump has sent out since then, he “made clear he has no intention of taking his sometimes golfing partner’s advice.”

ICYMI

First in ATR: Latino Victory Fund today is announcing two endorsements, both Latinas who are state lawmakers running in new districts created by reapportionment. The group, which spent more than $10 million in independent political expenditures in 2020, is backing Democrats Andrea Salinas, who is running Oregon’s 6th District, and Yadira Caraveo, a doctor, in Colorado’s 8th District. 

#GASEN: A police report saying a candidate “talked about having a shoot-out with police” would normally doom a Senate campaign, but it’s worth watching what impact, if any,  The Associated Press’ account of a 2001 incident will have on the candidacy of Georgia GOP contender Herschel Walker, who has the support of both former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

#MO SEN: Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley endorsed GOP Rep. Vicky Hartzler in the crowded GOP primary for Missouri Senate. 

FEC Fine: The campaign committee for Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert agreed to pay a $125,000 federal fine for misrepresenting campaign disbursements and using campaign money for personal expenses. Schweikert, whose 1st District race is rated Lean Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, was issued a rare reprimand on the House floor in 2020 and paid a $50,000 fine to the U.S. Treasury after the House Ethics Committee found he had permitted his office to misuse taxpayer dollars, violated campaign finance reporting requirements, and committed several other violations of federal law and House rules.

Still connected: An inspector general’s report found that former Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration Interior Secretary who is seeking to return to the House, kept ties to a foundation he and his wife founded and was involved in negotiations with a developer while he led the department, CQ Roll Call’s Ben Hulac reports.

Prohibited funds: The Justice Department disclosed details of a recent indictment against a trio of government-contractor executives who were accused of making illegal campaign contributions, including to an outside group supporting Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins’ 2020 reelection effort. Martin Kao, Clifford Chen, and Lawrence “Kahele” Lum Kee, all of Honolulu, were prohibited from making contributions in federal elections because they worked for a federal contractor, but did so anyway, the DOJ said. The defendants allegedly created a shell company to make donations and also allegedly used family members as conduits for illegal contributions, according to the indictment. 

Not running: Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wouldn’t run for Congress, after considering a bid for the 11th District. 

Ad makers: The public affairs and political advertising firm SKDK added five new hires ahead of the midterm elections. Ryan Rose, whose previous clients have included the DNC and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, signed on as political creative director; Andy Yazdani, previously with the Community Associations Institute, will be art director; Mackey Reed, who served as deputy director of paid media for the Michael Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign, is now a senior vice president; Lucy Macintosh, who spent the 2018 cycle at the DCCC, will be a vice president, while Ileana Astorga, formerly a legislative correspondent for Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, is a senior associate.  

#MN map: A five-judge panel in Minnesota finalized the state’s congressional map, with the biggest changes in two swing districts. The new map maintains the state’s current political dynamics, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. 

Pulling PAC money: Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria accepted $196,000 in corporate PAC donations after she reversed a pledge not to accept such contributions in late 2020. The nearly $200,000 is just a part of the $2.8 million Luria has raised, but is significant compared to the hauls of the Republicans vying to challenge her.

What we’re reading

Stu says: The truism that “you can’t beat something with nothing” — posited recently by Biden political director Patrick Gaspard to argue Democrats in the midterms will be able to tout stimulus checks that Republicans voted against — is just wrong when it comes to midterm elections. “In fact, it happens all the time,” Stu Rothenberg writes, noting that it rarely works when the president’s party tries to educate voters about accomplishments.

Loyalty questions: Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, considered a rising star in the GOP, has attracted longshot primary challengers who are questioning his loyalty because of his rebuttal of Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen and his willingness to call out what he has called “grifters” in the Republican base, the Texas Tribune reports. 

Peters’ play: Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, tells Politico that he doesn’t just want to defend Democrats’ narrow Senate majority in November, he wants to expand it by at least two seats. 

Hitting back: The DCCC is circulating polling that shows that Republican culture-war hits on “defunding the police” the “crisis at the border” and other issues have been “alarmingly potent,” but that vulnerable Democrats could regain ground by offering forceful rebuttals, Politico reports. 

Going underground: The Democratic “brand” is so toxic in some rural enclaves, such as Smethport, Pa., that some members of the party have removed bumper stickers and yard signs, a potentially foreboding indication for liberals ahead of the midterm elections, according to The Associated Press. 

The count: $5

That’s the suggested donation that Democratic candidate Andy Parker, who is running in Virginia’s 5th District, asked for in a fundraising appeal sent via a Twitter direct message. “Hi, thanks for following! I’m Andy Parker and I’m running for Congress to hold big tech accountable, bring jobs back to Virginia, defend voting rights, and more,” the candidate wrote in the DM, which included an ActBlue link. “If you’d like to join our fight to bring common sense and decency back to Congress, I hope you’ll consider chipping in $5 or whatever you can spare right away.” Parker is not the only candidate seeking donations by way of Twitter DMs. The Florida gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist also hit up our Twitter inbox this week, asking, “can you chip in $5 or $10 before tonight’s deadline to defeat Trump crony Ron DeSantis?” referring to the current GOP governor. If you’ve started to get more fundraising solicitations from Twitter DMs, hit us up to tell us about it. We’re at attheraces@cqrollcall.com

Nathan’s notes

New Jersey remained solidly blue in 2021, reelecting Democrats to the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers. But margins slipped from the levels Biden got in 2020, and that, combined with the new map, could mean Republicans pick up one or two House seats in November.

Candidate confessions

Wesley Hunt, frontrunner to win the GOP nomination in Texas’ new 38th District in the March 1 primary, says he’s been a lifelong conservative and Republican, starting as a kid growing up in Houston. He says he was born and raised in the Baptist church before graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, something of a family tradition.

“I went to West Point, my sister went to West Point, so did my brother. We all served our country,” said Hunt, who was an Apache helicopter pilot. “My dad’s a retired lieutenant colonel, so you don’t have a house like that and not grow up in a pretty conservative-values-based house.”

Shop talk: Jimmy Keady

Keady, a partner at point1 and the founder and president of JLK Political Strategies, has worked for over a decade in politics in a career ranging from the Food and Drug Administration to campaigns, and as a House chief of staff.  

Starting out: Keady began his career working for the FDA during the Obama administration, but knew he wanted to work for a Republican, so he began working for Greg Abbott’s first campaign for governor of Texas. He worked for various campaigns, a campaign committee in Virginia, some House races and on Capitol Hill before launching JLK Political Strategies nearly four years ago. “I’m a little bit unique in this business because I’ve done everything from being at the state legislature at a high level, from being a chief of staff to a member of Congress’ senior adviser, and then obviously I came from FDA, so I also have worked in the legislative part. But really my love was for campaigns,” he said. “I felt that there was basically a weak spot in the industry where you’ve got a lot of people who either do campaign stuff or they do legislative stuff. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do both.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Winning back the House majority for [Virginia] Republicans in 2021 with [House candidate] Kim Taylor. It was basically midnight, and nobody had called the shots on that, and you know she was actually down and there was an issue with the Registrar’s Office where they actually didn’t do the right numbers, and Kim came back and we were up 600 votes.”

Biggest campaign regret: “There was one campaign that I ran a couple of years ago that I lost by one vote,” Keady said. “I’ve lost two by less than 20 votes, and those are the ones that stick with you.”

Unconventional wisdom: “There’s common sense and there’s campaign sense,” Keady said. “And they’re not the same thing.” He also said candidates and campaign workers have to accept that they won’t be fully in control. “You can only control about 50 percent of what goes on in a campaign but you can 100 percent control the message that you put out there,” he said. “We can’t control if we’re going against a self-funder, if the environment is bad, if something happens that impacts a campaign, but we can control what we say, what we do and how we put things out on social media. The one thing that has happened with social media is that everyone wants to regurgitate everything they’re saying and just spew whatever comes to their mind and I think that’s a big mistake.”

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

Coming up

Wednesday is the deadline for North Carolina’s congressional map for the next decade to be approved by a court panel. The state legislature has until Friday to consider the map, which lawmakers were still debating Thursday. 

Photo finish

Democratic New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, who said this week she won’t be running for reelection, walks down the Capitol steps in October 2017 with Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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