At the Races: Feeling the pinch

Posted March 17, 2022 at 2:30pm

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Top o’ the afternoon to you.

COVID-19 deprived the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the Capitol its guest of honor after Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheàl Martin tested positive. But the St. Patrick’s Day event went forward with President Joe Biden in attendance, While House pooler and CQ Roll Call chief correspondent Niels Lesniewski reports. 

It’s yet another reminder, after several members tested positive recently, that the coronavirus remains with us, even as lawmakers, including Democrats with potentially difficult reelection fights ahead, project a willingness to embrace more normalcy after two years of restrictions. This week, a number of Senate Democrats up this cycle voted, along with nearly all of their GOP colleagues, to repeal mask mandates on public transportation and airplanes. Potentially vulnerable Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire were among them, CQ Roll Call’s Jessica Wehrman reports. Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, whose reelection race is rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, also voted for the repeal, but Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock voted to keep the mandate.  

The war in Ukraine, and the unfolding tragic loss of life among civilians, continues to dominate the discussion in Washington, though few candidates have made it a major messaging point so far. Lawmakers and candidates remain focused on gas prices, with Republicans hammering Democrats’ big spending bills and energy policies and Democrats blaming Russia’s invasion and the pandemic. An Associated Press fact-check said Biden had “skirted responsibility” over the rising prices but also said Republicans had gone “too far” in putting all the blame on Biden. 

Energy executives may need to prep for congressional testimony in the coming weeks, according to CQ Roll Call’s Benjamin J. Hulac, who reports on Democrats’ plans to probe oil and gas companies over the rising prices. Vulnerable Democrats, including Warnock, have called for a gas-tax pause, and lawmakers may well consider such a move this month.

Starting gate

Spouse’s special: Jennifer Carnahan is seeking to succeed her late husband, GOP Rep. Jim Hagedorn, in Minnesota’s 1st District, becoming the latest widow to run to fulfill a spouse’s term. She faces a wide primary field and brings her own record from her time leading the state Republican Party, which could have its drawbacks.

Seeking unity: House Democrats made it to Philadelphia last week for their first issues conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and several pushed for Biden to use executive authority to advance their agenda in areas that have been blocked in the Senate. Democrats also discussed having more to do on the legislative front, how to talk to voters about what they have accomplished and how a Democratic-controlled Congress would differ from one led by the GOP.  

Party backers: Reps. Jason Smith of Missouri and Vern Buchanan of Florida, who are competing to be the top Republican on — and, potentially, chairman of — the Ways and Means Committee, each pledged to raise seven-figure sums for the National Republican Congressional Committee, CQ Roll Call’s Laura Weiss reports. Both of their House races are rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. 

Surrender signal?: Among other things, House progressives’ call for Biden to pursue more policies through executive action is notable for its timing: “It essentially raises a white flag over the Biden-Democratic agenda,” CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett writes. 

Hot seat: A jury was seated in the trial of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who is accused of  lying to federal authorities who were investigating illegal contributions to the Nebraska Republican’s 2016 reelection campaign. Prosecution and defense attorneys gave their opening statements in a Los Angeles federal courtroom Thursday.

ICYMI

Down ballot: Former presidents don’t often get involved in endorsing candidates for state offices such as insurance and fire safety commissioner, but former President Donald Trump did just that in Georgia, CQ Roll Call’s Justin Papp reports.

Maryland primary postponed: Voters in Maryland will have a few extra weeks to decide which candidates to back in the state’s primaries. That’s because an appellate court postponed the contests from June 28 to July 19 amid continuing legal challenges over the new boundaries of congressional districts. Baltimore’s city election director, Armstead Jones, called the delay “a whole nightmare,” the Baltimore Sun reports.  

Southern strategy: Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt raised $1.6 million at a private fundraising event for his Senate campaign and aligned super PAC at Mar-a-Lago, where Trump made a surprise appearance. The haul represented a significant increase to Schmitt’s campaign war chest — he had raised $2.4 million total by the end of the last fundraising period on Dec. 31, according to the Federal Election Commission. It was also a symbolic victory in a crowded Republican primary in which the candidates are all jostling for Trump’s endorsement. 

Boomers: Former Rep. Kendra Horn, a one-term Democrat who won a suburban Oklahoma House seat in a major upset in 2018, mounted a bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. James M. Inhofe in deep-Red Oklahoma. And Rep. Kevin Hern announced he would seek reelection to his Tulsa-area House seat, ending speculation that he would join what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the Senate special election. 

Endorsement tracker: The New Democrat Coalition Action Fund endorsed Nikki Budzinski in Illinois’ 13th District, an open seat race. The group also added Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat running for the seat of retiring Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter, to its candidate watch list.

In memory: Former Rep. Vic Fazio, a California Democrat who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for two cycles in the 1990s, has died at the age of 79. A statement provided from his office said he had been suffering from cancer and died at home surrounded by his family. Fazio had been a lobbyist and top K Street donor with the firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He helmed the DCCC during a rough election year for his party in 1994. Fellow Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, who worked with Fazio in his role at the DCCC and as caucus chairman, recalled that “there was no member who worked harder and was better liked on both sides of the aisle.”

Going low country: Trump devoted some time during a rally in South Carolina to bash “grandstanding losers” Nancy Mace and Tom Rice — House members he counts on his list of disloyal Republicans — and tout two of their primary rivals he has endorsed. 

Gloves off: Herschel Walker, the Trump-endorsed former football star running for Georgia’s Senate seat, fielded criticism from Democrats and primary rivals this week after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report raised questions about business acumen he has touted on the campaign trail and he questioned the existence of evolution during an on-stage interview at a Georgia church. 

It’s official: Climate activist and Hollywood celebrity Jane Fonda made official this week her new Jane Fonda Climate PAC, weeks after filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. The PAC has one goal, Fonda said in a video: “Do whatever it takes to defeat the political allies of the fossil fuel industry, no matter which side of the aisle they’re on.” 

Veto pending: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he would veto the congressional redistricting map approved Thursday by the state Senate. The map approved by the legislature would have made the state’s 1st District, held by Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, more Republican leaning, and the 2nd District, held by Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, more Democratic. 

Gas ad: Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids aired a radio ad touting her support for a suspension of the federal gas tax and slamming her presumptive GOP opponent, “wealthy politician” Amanda Adkins, for opposing the proposal, which Adkins has called “a gimmick.” The ad is the latest attempt to flip the script on Republicans blaming the Democratic administration for rising gas prices. 

Dropping out: Michigan state Rep. Steve Carra dropped his bid for the U.S. House after Trump, who had previously endorsed Carra to take on GOP Rep. Fred Upton, endorsed GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga as well. All three were running in the 4th District after redistricting, although Upton hasn't officially said he will run. 

Dual citizenship: Mehmet Oz, who is running for the GOP nomination in Pennsylvania’s open Senate race, said “that before I am sworn in as the next U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania I will only be a U.S. citizen.” Oz has dual citizenship in Turkey, which he says he has maintained to care for his ailing mother, but there were questions of whether he would be forced to forgo security clearances if he maintained citizenship in another country. Oz, who would be the first Muslim elected to the Senate, called attacks from rival Dave McCormick’s campaign “bigoted.” McCormick, whose campaign held a press call Wednesday with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan on the issue,  called for Oz to renounce his Turkish citizenship now, saying voters can’t trust him. 

Parnell hits the trail — again:  McCormick campaigned this week with Sean Parnell. Parnell was the Trump-endorsed front-runner for the Republican Senate nomination until he dropped out of the race last year, after allegations surfaced that he had been abusive toward his estranged wife and a judge awarded her custody of their three children. “It’s not about electing Republicans anymore,” Parnell said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s about electing the right kind of leaders, people who take an oath to protect the Constitution, and not a political party.”

Young guns: The NRCC announced the second round of candidates who have qualified as “Young Guns,” the highest tier of its recruitment and training program: Tom Barrett in Michigan’s 7th District, Scott Baugh in California’s 47th District, Juan Ciscomani in Arizona’s 6th District, John James in Michigan’s 10th District, Jen Kiggans in Virginia’s 2nd District, Tyler Kistner in Minnesota’s 2nd District, Lisa Scheller in Pennsylvania’s 7th District and Alek Skarlatos in Oregon’s 4th District. 

With friends like these: Mo Brooks is disappointing,” Trump tells the Washington Examiner this week. Trump endorsed the Alabama GOP House member in the state’s Republican primary for the open seat of retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby. The former president says he is reassessing that vote of confidence ahead of the May 24 primary. Trump also teased upcoming endorsements in Senate primaries in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

Spreading the wealth: Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who has raised $7.4 million for his Senate campaign, pledged to give $3 million to a coordinated campaign he launched with the Ohio Democratic Party to support general campaign infrastructure for the entire Democratic slate.

Big Sky showdown:  In an interview with Politico, Montana Sen. Steve Daines said he has “​​very strong support in the conference” to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 2024 cycle. If Daines does take on the role, he’ll be charged with defeating Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, his home state senior senator, if Tester runs for reelection.

Left out: The 2020 census undercounted Latino, Black and Native American people — with Latinos left out at a rate more than three times higher than a decade earlier — while overcounting people who identified as white and not Latino, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. The counts are used to reallocate each state's share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, as well as redrawing voting districts.

What we’re reading

Power players: Politico’s The Recast is out with its Power List of 40 political players from strategists to politicians, activists to influencers, who are at the intersection of race, politics and policy.

Dirty dollars?: The Miami Herald looks at new campaign finance charges against Andrey Muraviev, a “would-be Russian marijuana tycoon who allegedly bankrolled a scheme by Rudy Giuliani associates” Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to distribute illegal political donations. The Justice Department’s indictment in the case is here

Bully pulpit: NBC News looks behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to draw his own congressional map — steamrolling Republicans in the state legislature in order to dismantle two districts held by Black Democrats — as he eyes the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination. 

The count: $22.7 million

That is how much federal money GOP Rep. Carlos Gimenez, who flipped a Democratic seat in South Florida in 2020 that the DCCC is trying to win back this year, earmarked in the $1.5 trillion FY22 omnibus bill that Biden signed this week. Gimenez ranked sixth in earmarked dollars among all House members in an analysis by CQ Roll Call. Another battleground Republican, California Rep. Young Kim, ranked 10th. Gimenez got nine line items in the bill, including $6 million for an Army Corps of Engineers project in the Florida Keys, $5.5 million for pre-disaster mitigation in Monroe County, and $2 million for a drinking water project in Miami-Dade County, where Gimenez was previously mayor.

Nathan’s notes

In a trio of dispatches rating House races, Nathan L. Gonzales looks at how Democrats stand to pick up three seats from redistricting in New York, lose one in Georgia, and maintain the status quo in Hawaii

Candidate confessions

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires won’t be a candidate this year, but he has some advice for those who follow him in Congress: Share an apartment when you are in Washington, and get used to traveling. Speaking to CQ Roll Call’s Michael Teitelbaum about what he liked most and least since he won his first term in 2006, Sires said the plus side included making friends from other parts of the country. “What I did not enjoy was going back and forth, getting on the train. I don’t know how these people from California do it. I would never, never be part of Congress if I had to go to California,” Sires said. “And [in Washington], you’re by yourself most of the time. I don’t hang around bars, I don’t drink, I don't gamble. So I never hung around the Democratic Club or anything like that, like some people enjoy doing. I should have gotten a roommate to save some money, and it would have been a lot more fun.”

Shop talk: Drew Kent

Kent was named this month as the first executive director of The Governing Majority Education Fund, which backs center-right policies and supports the Republican Governance Group/Tuesday Group PAC. He has served as a chief of staff to GOP then-Rep. Charlie Dent and worked as a staffer to Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas and former Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania. He also served as the executive director of the official Tuesday Group Caucus. 

Starting out:  “As long as I can remember, politics was a family affair,” Kent said. Kent’s mother was an elected judge in Texas, and his father ran for state Senate when he was a child. “It was a big race; it really sticks out in my memory. He did lose, which probably makes it stick out even more. But I remember we did countless family trips to ... knock on doors, and campaign in Dallas. That had a big impact. So, really, politics was something that's always been in my life. And so it's kind of natural that I went into the field as well.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment:  “One that sticks out the most for me is campaigning one cycle for Charlie [Dent], when my wife was pregnant with our first kid. She and I are both strong supporters of Charlie. And we marched in countless parades with Charlie banners. And of course, she's at that point nine months pregnant. And so obviously, that's pretty unforgettable.” He added that he was also marked by watching his father pour so much work into his state Senate campaign and coming up short. “That was an important lesson in politics at an early age for me,” he said. “Things don't always go your way. You can give it your best and do what you think is the best and knock on however many doors that you knock on and pour every moment of time and energy and thought that you have available and still come up short.”

Biggest campaign regret: “The person that has most impacted my political life has been Congressman Dent. And as folks who know Charlie know, he is an absolute political animal and a rabid campaigner. He has made it his goal never to spend $1 on positive advertising in campaigns. And I convinced him in one of our cycles to run a positive piece.” Kent argued that, since their data showed that voters weren’t familiar enough with Dent’s opponent to warrant spending money on an attack, it made sense to invest some of their resources on a mailer touting Dent’s record. Dent did not agree. “I still haven't heard the end of that to this day. … He felt any money spent on positive mail pieces was a missed opportunity on attacking your opponent. He was a firm believer in attacking early and attacking often. And I mean, you can’t argue with the success it gave to him. He was very successful at political campaigns.”

Unconventional wisdom: “I think it's too easy nowadays for candidates to get sucked into the time-consuming, never-ending fundraising and paid media, running digital ads, running television, doing mail, but neglecting the most important component, in my opinion, of a campaign. And that's the shoe leather work: Going to the parade. Going door to door. Spending the necessary time and energy putting yourself face-to-face in front of as many voters as possible. And not just the voters that you know will totally align with you. But going to the doors of folks that may not align directly with you on paper and talking to them about your point of view and explaining why they should vote for you, even though they may not have the same opinion on a certain issue.”

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

Coming up

Polish your pins and brush up on valuable bobble-heads when the American Political Items Collectors Show and Sale makes a reappearance on Saturday. CQ Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi previewed what to expect by talking with organizer and regional reporter Jonathan Salant and touring veteran collector Robert Fratkin’s museum-like home.

Photo finish

Then-Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., as Democratic caucus vice chairman, speaks at a DCCC reception and press conference celebrating the committee having no debt in December 1993. (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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