At the Races: Retreat rerouted

Posted March 10, 2022 at 2:30pm

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As the Russian invasion of Ukraine stretches into its third week, Americans are starting to show increased support for an energetic response from Washington. 

While that hasn’t translated into a bump in approval ratings for President Joe Biden, it has provided Democrats an opportunity to rally voters in an otherwise inhospitable midterm environment and — they hope — make good on their 2020 promise to display competence in the face of a crisis. 

But that effort suffered another setback when House passage of an omnibus spending package that would include $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine was held up on Wednesday by a revolt from some Democrats over the way pandemic aid would be offset. 

The group objecting to the offset included vulnerable members like Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig, who argued that it unfairly reduced the amount of money that would go to their states — valuable currency on the campaign trail. They were ultimately successful in getting the $15.6 billion COVID-19 relief stripped from the spending package and inserted into a new bill without the offensive state cuts that will be considered next week. 

The dispute marred the opening of House Democrats’ annual retreat, which is meant to show unity and hone the party’s midterm messaging. It also overshadowed a House vote on a measure to ban the import of Russian coal, gas and oil and other petroleum products. 

That vote, coming a day after Biden announced sanctions against Russian energy imports, passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, a detail Democrats hope could help deflect Republican criticism of Democrats’ energy policies and bolster Biden’s attempt to pin spiraling gas prices on Russian President Vladimir Putin

The drama over the omnibus bill also gave Republicans an opening that Adam Brandon, president of the staunchly conservative group FreedomWorks, strolled through Wednesday afternoon. “We are glad to see that Democrats have been forced to drop $15.6 billion in COVID spending from their middle-of-the-night omnibus package. Democrats are clearly in disarray,” he said in a statement. 

The appropriations bill was broken into two parts with a “self-executing rule” that stitched them back together and sent one bill to the Senate. The domestic spending portion passed with 39 Republican yes votes, while the defense spending portion got 155 Republican “yes” votes. 

Brandon also panned Republicans who supported the bill. “If Republicans can’t hold the line on spending here, why should Americans give them back their House and Senate majorities this November?” 

Democrats, though, are happy to see deepening rifts in the GOP over how they would handle majority power in Washington.

“This is what we expect from Republicans as we move forward: more focused on divisive rhetoric, less focused on their record,” Guy Cecil, chairman of the Democratic group Priorities USA, said during a press briefing Tuesday, “which is why it’s really critical that Democrats move away from inner-party fighting and towards drawing real contrast with the Republican Party.”

Starting gate

Races on in the Tar Heel State: North Carolina candidates were shifting districts for months, but the state’s congressional map and primary field is set for the 2022 elections. The race for an open seat in the 13th District is set to be particularly competitive, and it features two former state Senate colleagues on the Democratic side and former Rep. Renee Ellmers seeking a comeback in an eight-way primary on the GOP side. The DCCC named that district and the 14th District to its Districts In Play program on Thursday. 

Will it be sunny in Philadelphia? House Democrats arrived in Philadelphia overnight for their annual issues conference after delays on Capitol Hill forced them to cancel the first night of programming. The conference was meant to be a moment for the caucus to unify ahead of the midterm elections. DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney gave members a presentation about the midterms on Thursday morning, telling reporters afterward that “there are real bright spots” after Democrats fared better than expected in redistricting and that they have a cash advantage over the GOP.

Gas price politics: The reactions from Republicans and Democrats to Biden’s announcement of the Russian fossil fuel import ban indicated both parties clearly recognize that Democrats’ chances of survival in the midterm elections could come down to whether Americans blame Biden or Russian President Vladimir Putin for skyrocketing prices at the pump.

Court closed: The Supreme Court allowed congressional maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to move forward for this year’s election, saying there isn’t enough time before voting to reconsider them, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that the court would be unlikely to intervene in other similar cases.  

Health care talk: New Hampshire Democrats facing tough reelection bids this year appeared with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in Manchester last week to tout issues like mental health and reproductive rights, which they think will resonate with voters this year. 

DeSant-mentum: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former House member and potential presidential contender, is having a political moment, as his star power in the GOP is second only to former President Donald Trump’s, writes CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett. 

Roaming the Hill: Lobbyists seek to reopen the Capitol complex once again, urging congressional leaders to permit them to roam freely and to welcome tour groups. 

ICYMI

Red to blue: House Democrats’ campaign arm added a dozen candidates to its Red-to-Blue program for seats it’s targeting to capture from the GOP or candidates running in competitive races. Those districts include the redrawn 22nd in California, where Democrat Rudy Salas, a state lawmaker, is challenging GOP Rep. David Valadao; the 45th in California, where Democrat Jay Chen is running against Republican Rep. Michelle Steel; Iowa’s 1st, where Christina Bohannan is challenging GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks; Iowa’s 2nd, where state legislator Liz Mathis is seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson; Illinois’ 13th, where Democrat Nikki Budzinski is running in for an open seat currently held by Rep. Rodney Davis, who is running in a different district; New York’s 11th, where former Rep. Max Rose is seeking to reclaim his old seat from GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis; New York’s 1st, where Army veteran Jackie Gordon is seeking the open seat left by GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin’s run for governor; Ohio’s 1st, where Greg Landsman is challenging GOP Rep. Steve Chabot; Colorado’s 7th, where Democrat Brittany Pettersen is running for an open seat currently held by fellow Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter; Michigan’s 3rd, where Hillary Scholten is challenging GOP Rep. Peter Meijer; New Mexico’s 2nd, where Gabe Vasquez is seeking to oust GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell; and Ohio’s 13th, where Emilia Sykes is running.

On the Frontlines: The DCCC also added three incumbents to its Frontline program: Reps. Kathy Manning in North Carolina, Joe Courtney in Connecticut and Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania. Citing redistricting, the DCCC also removed from its “districts in play” category GOP Reps. Victoria Spartz in Indiana’s 5th District, Andrew Garbarino in New York’s 2nd, Chris Jacobs in New York’s 24th, Tony Gonzales in Texas’ 23rd, Beth Van Duyne in Texas’ 24th and Burgess Owens in Utah’s 4th.

On the left: The progressive group Our Revolution sent out a fundraising appeal Wednesday touting its work taking on the “American oligarchs” who, they said, fund “climate denial, racist right wing movements, attacks on voting rights and corporate Democrats like Henry Cuellar” — a Texas House member facing a May 24 runoff against progressive Democrat Jessica Cisneros. 

Ukraine on the airwaves: Priorities USA sought to tie the GOP to the pro-Russian rhetoric on the far right with two ads “calling out Donald Trump and the Republican Party for their shameful support of Putin’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine and propping up a murderous regime that is killing families and children, destroying cities and towns, and committing war crimes,” according to a press release. 

Not battleground districts: Some of the most far-left and far-right members opposed a statutory ban on importing Russian energy that passed the House overwhelmingly on Wednesday night. Voting ‘nyet’ were two Democrats, Missouri’s Cori Bush and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, and 15 Republicans: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Bill Posey of Florida, Chip Roy of Texas and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin.

Trolling: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a press release that it planned to “encircle” Senate Republicans’ caucus retreat Wednesday with a mobile billboard “highlighting their agenda to raise taxes on ‘over half of all Americans,’ including seniors and working families.”

Member on member: A new PAC called Protect Our Future that pledged to spend $2 million backing Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath in her primary against fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux released its first ad highlighting McBath’s health care priorities. 

Member on member II: Michigan Rep. Andy Levin’s campaign released a Lake Research Partners poll showing Levin essentially tied with Rep. Haley Stevens. The two Democrats are set to face off in an Aug. 2 primary for the 11th District nomination. “This poll makes it clear that Andy’s strong base of support provides a solid foundation, while his favorability with undecided voters, his progressive record and the persuasive impact of the endorsements he has received will be significant assets in the months ahead,” campaign manager Nicole Bedi said in a statement. 

Not so fast: A prominent Oklahoma attorney has asked the state’s Supreme Court to postpone the upcoming special election to fill retiring Sen. James M. Inhofe’s seat. Republican Stephen Jones, who represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and was a GOP Senate nominee in 1990, argues in his complaint that a state law allowing the vacancy to be filled before Inhofe has actually retired is unconstitutional.

Endorsement watch: The Latino Victory Fund today announced the endorsement of Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez for reelection in New Mexico’s 3rd District. The STEM-focused group 314 Action Fund said it was backing Dr. Asif Mahmood in California’s 40th District. Pro-Israel America and Pro-Israel America PAC announced new endorsements for five Democrats and three Republicans: Michigan GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga, Democrat Steve Irwin in Pennsylvania’s 18th District; Democratic state Sen. Morgan McGarvey in Kentucky’s 3rd District; Rob Menendez Jr., a Democrat in New Jersey’s open 8th District; Democrat Janice Winfrey challenging Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib in Michigan’s 12th District; New Jersey GOP Rep. Chris Smith; Minnesota GOP Rep. Pete Stauber; and Democrat Gilbert Villegas in Illinois’ 3rd District. 

GOP Women: Republican House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC, which supports Republican women, announced its second slate of 10 endorsements: Tanya Contreras Wheeless in Arizona’s 4th District, Anna Paulina Luna in Florida’s 13th District, Erin Houchin in Indiana’s 9th District, Annie Black in Nevada’s 4th District, Liz Joy in New York’s 20th District, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert in Ohio’s 13th District, Lori Chavez-DeRemer in Oregon’s 5th District, Morgan Ortagus in Tennessee’s 5th District, Cassy Garcia in Texas’s 28th District and Mayra Flores in Texas’ 34th District.

TV won’t be the same (until December): Senate campaigns hit the airwaves in a number of battleground states, according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s first ad featured a hotel housekeeper praising the Nevada Democrat’s work bringing COVID-19 relief money to the state. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat running for the Senate, released his first broadcast ad highlighting his work addressing gun violence as mayor of the “steel town” of Braddock. Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin and Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb  made their first ad buys in their Oklahoma and Pennsylvania Senate campaigns, as did New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in what is reportedly a $13 million ad blitz planned through the fall. Lamb’s ad invoked Jan. 6. And Winning for Women launched a $1.4 million campaign in support of Jane Timken in Ohio’s Senate race, according to Punchbowl News.

He’s running: Former Macomb County Judge Carl Marlinga said he would run for the Democratic nomination in Michigan’s revamped 10th District around metro Detroit. Before Marlinga entered the race, the state Republican Party filed a complaint with the state’s judicial tenure commission arguing that he wasn’t eligible to run for the seat after resigning from a judgeship last month, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Help from friends: Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz pumped $137,000 out of his own reelection fund to support former aide Cassy Garcia’s campaign in the March 1 GOP primary in the competitive 28th District, which The Dallas Morning News points out was more than Garcia raised herself. Garcia advanced to a May 24 runoff against Sandra Whitten, a preschool director who lost to Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in 2020. 

What we’re reading

Define “home”: A look by The New Yorker at the rusty-roofed mobile home in North Carolina that former Rep. Mark Meadows used as his address to vote absentee when he was White House chief of staff in 2020 has raised some questions

#NC Sen: Speaking at a Republican National Committee dinner in New Orleans on Saturday, Trump asked how Rep. Ted Budd, who he endorsed in the North Carolina GOP Senate primary, is faring and called for former Rep. Mark Walker to exit the race, according to a recording obtained by Politico. Budd and Walker are also facing former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the current front-runner. 

Senate battles: Republicans’ struggles to recruit top-tier candidates in key Senate contests and other “unforced errors” may compromise the party’s prospects for winning the chamber even in an otherwise favorable environment in the fall, the AP reports. 

To the extreme: The New York Times podcast The Daily traveled to the Houston suburbs for a detailed look at how redistricting forced candidates to the extremes in the state’s March 1 primaries, a trend that surfaced in the way GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s endorsement was weaponized against retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell, who ultimately won the nomination to replace retiring Rep. Kevin Brady in the 8th District.

Calling all screenplay writers: The Washington Examiner pieces together the collision of unrelated events that led to the downfall of Texas GOP Rep. Van Taylor. This story has everything: An ISIS bride with raunchy text messages. An aspiring investigative reporter chasing a scoop. A spurned inventor of water balloon technology who vowed to take down his local congressman. 

Moms on the trail: National Journal looks at the GOP women who are leaning into their roles as mothers on the campaign trail in Senate primaries.  

The MAGA question: The Columbus Dispatch considers the balancing act facing former state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, whose endorsement by retiring Sen. Rob Portman signals support from the GOP establishment in her Ohio Senate campaign. But in a GOP primary with no clear front-runner, she must also compete for MAGA support.   

The count: $75 million

That’s how much money lawmakers included in the House-passed $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations package for election security grants that the Election Assistance Commission may dole out to states for technology and other improvements to election equipment. Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen said it wasn’t a lot of money, especially for larger states, and that more was needed. But she added that “any amount, no matter how small, can have a positive impact.” Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs at Common Cause, agreed. “The $75 million for election funding for states is a small step in the right direction, but it’s no substitute for the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, and the funding won’t do anything to stop certain states from passing voter suppression laws,” he said. 

Nathan’s notes

Republicans drawing the new district lines in Tennessee decided to break up a Democratic district, but their counterparts in Kentucky decided not to, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. And if you missed it, Nathan and CQ Roll Call’s Jason Dick talked about the midterm landscape in last week’s Political Theater podcast.

Candidate confessions

Ellmers, a former three-term congresswoman and nurse, said she got back into nursing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and went to work at a Fayetteville nursing home for veterans. That work prompted her to run for Congress again, she said. 

“While I was there, I saw a lot of issues that were concerning for me regarding the veterans. I started realizing that there were a lot of cracks in the system, and I realized that the veterans needed a voice in Washington,” Ellmers said in an interview. 

Now, Ellmers is wrapping up work on testing patients for COVID-19 before pivoting to focus on the campaign full time in the coming weeks. She said Republicans in Congress should investigate the source of the pandemic, something her former colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee have been pushing for. 

“There are some tough questions that the Democrats in Washington have never really asked because they don’t want to interfere with the relationship that they have with China,” she said. “We, as Republicans, have to go to Washington and ask those tough questions because we cannot allow this to happen again.”

Shop talk: Mike Reed

Reed, who recently became chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, where he’s worked since 2017, previously served as an aide to then-Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. He did stints with the NRSC and the Romney presidential campaign and lives on Capitol Hill with his family, including a spaniel named Seven (after a Seinfeld episode), he says. 

Starting out: “From a pretty early age, I knew I wanted to work in politics,” Reed said. “Even in seventh and eighth grade I had a strong feeling politics is the path I would take. I served on various student councils in middle school and high school and did internships in college in Mitt Romney’s governor’s office — I grew up in the Boston area — the 2004 RNC convention in New York City, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy during a semester in D.C.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “The entirety of 2020 will certainly go down as unforgettable, especially because of the way COVID threw a wrench into everything,” Reed recalled. “I will never forget the 2020 RNC convention planning process and how with weeks to spare we had to prepare for switching host cities.” Ultimately, the RNC and Trump campaign did events in Charlotte and Washington, including the White House lawn. 

Biggest campaign regret: One regret, he says, was not recognizing Trump’s “popular policy positions and effective messaging around trade, immigration and foreign policy (to name a few) sooner.  He brought millions of new voters into the party because he talked about these issues in ways most Republicans hadn’t in years prior to 2016.”

Unconventional wisdom: “It’s been talked about some, but many are missing how our party is now making real progress in winning over minority groups who have voted Democrat a long time. Hispanic, Asian and Black Americans are joining our party in impressive numbers,” he said. “A huge credit goes to the RNC team that has built real and lasting engagement initiatives in these communities.”

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

Coming up

Three states have filing deadlines Friday for candidates seeking to run for office: California, Georgia and Idaho.  

Photo finish

Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacts to reporters’ questions about the compromise with Senate Republicans on COVID-19 funding that members of her caucus objected to on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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