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At the Races: Spinning spending

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Corrected 3:58 p.m. | The hearings this week on President Joe Biden’s budget request gave Democrats an opportunity to showcase their fiscal priorities as the clock ticks down to the midterms. 

The administration put forth proposals to increase taxes on the ultrawealthy and touted deficit reductions that Democrats hope will counter Republican attacks on runaway inflation. It also may convince skeptical members to back spending on climate change and social programs that most Democrats think they need to pass to have a shot at keeping their narrow majorities in the House and Senate in November. 

But while the stakes are high for Democrats, Republicans — who are becoming increasingly bullish about their chances to win back the House — made it clear once again that they have little incentive to help Democrats enact their spending plans before the next fiscal year begins in October. 

As CQ Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley and Lindsey McPherson report, Republicans complained that the president’s budget “woefully” underfunded defense in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and claimed the administration’s spending policies would stoke price increases by flooding the economy with stimulus.

And while some vulnerable Democrats, like Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, commended the administration’s budget, it also exposed fissures within the caucus. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, for example, told CQ Roll Call she is deeply concerned with increases in defense spending Biden is seeking. And as Quigley reports, Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat and former Navy surface warfare officer whose race is rated a Toss-up in November, tweeted Tuesday that the proposed Biden Defense budget “sucks” because it isn’t big enough. 

Similar dynamics are also at play as Democrats rush to pass another COVID-19 relief package and respond to spiraling gas prices before Congress goes on a two-week recess at the end of next week. 

Democratic strategists said privately this week that they think voters will be offended by Republican opposition to such measures, and that Democrats need to do a better job highlighting every GOP “no” vote and showcasing their own wins. Republicans, meanwhile, doubled down on their offensive strategy, with the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, announcing this week that it is expanding its target list into deep Democratic territory. 

“We’re going to be in a position, in my opinion, to win the majority if we keep doing what we’re doing and stick to our game plan,” NRCC chairman Tom Emmer said during a Wednesday press call. 

Starting gate

House map: The battle for the House took clearer shape this week as the NRCC announced an expanded map of Democratic targets and House Majority PAC, the main super PAC tied to Democratic leadership, announced more than $100 million of ad reservations for the final months of the campaign. 

Temp job: The shuffled territory caused by redistricting in California means the winner of next week’s low-key special primary for the remainder of ex-Rep. Devin Nunes’ term in the 22nd District won’t be running for a full term in that seat next year.  

Ballot bucks: It’s a long way from becoming law, but Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget proposes spending $10 billion over 10 years to improve the way states and localities run elections, a change one advocate called “transformative” after sporadic federal funding at lower amounts in previous election cycles.

Improvement plan: Congress would be better with less gerrymandering, more swing districts and campaign finance reform, retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., tells CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa. 

ICYMI

#OK5: Democrat Abby Broyles ended her campaign for Oklahoma’s 5th District, where she faced steep odds against Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice after redistricting. In a Medium post, Broyles, a former television journalist and 2020 Democratic Senate nominee, detailed her struggles with anxiety, anorexia and substance abuse that came to a head after she mixed wine “with medication that helps you relax” and was accused of insulting young girls and vomiting into a laundry basket at a slumber party she was chaperoning. She said she had checked into rehab and was sharing her story because she should have gotten help sooner. 

From the blotter: Ian A. Smith, a gym owner and high-profile critic of mask mandates and COVID-19 lockdowns, was charged with a DUI after allegedly driving erratically and refusing to take a breathalyzer test, nj.com reports. Smith, who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Andy Kim in the 3rd District, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide 15 years ago. And Michael Neary, a Democrat running to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Langevin in Rhode Island’s 2nd District, was arrested in Ohio on stalking and drug charges. 

Adding some fizz: Trudy Busch Valentine, a scion of the Anheuser-Busch beer family, entered the Democratic Senate primary in Missouri, prompting former state Sen. Scott Sifton to drop out of the race and endorse her instead, Sifton’s campaign announced in a news release. 

Show me the toplines: A poll conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of Missouri Scout news service found Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the lead in the crowded Republican primary for the state’s Senate seat, after former Governor Eric Greitens’ wife accused him of domestic violence in court records that surfaced last week, according to a Schmitt campaign release. 

Rematch: Former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness launched a rematch against Democratic Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in Florida’s 20th District. Holness lost a crowded November special election by five votes to replace the late Alcee L. Hastings

Election audit: Virginia state Sen. Jen Kiggans, who’s running in the 2nd District and hopes to challenge Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, last month voted for “a $70 million ‘full forensic audit’ of the 2020 election in Virginia.” The vote comes as another candidate in the GOP primary, James Bell, is seeking the support of Trump voters. Kiggans told The Washington Post that she voted for the election audit amendment “in support of election integrity.” 

Fed up: North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed state Sen. Chuck Edwards’ challenge to freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the GOP primary for the 11th District. Other Republicans may back one of Cawthorn’s many primary opponents after his recent comments that members of Congress invited him to participate in orgies and smoke cocaine. 

Member matchup: Some House Democrats are frustrated with Michigan Rep. Andy Levin for running against fellow Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens rather than running in the 10th District, which is likely to be a tough race for both parties. 

#PASen:  When the four candidates running for Pennsylvania’s GOP Senate nomination gathered on a stage for the first time this cycle on Wednesday, Mehmet Oz took the most attacks, on issues ranging from fracking to whether his credentials are conservative enough.

Holding fire: Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance said Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene “did nothing wrong” when she spoke last month at a white nationalist conference. Vance called Greene a friend and said, “I’m not going to throw her under the bus,” according to HuffPost

He’s running: Bruce Fenton became the latest New Hampshire Republican to seek the party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

Ad buy: Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan launched a $3.3 million ad buy, the first in the state’s Democratic Senate primary, focused on China’s threat to American manufacturing.

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

What we’re reading

Stu says: Recent polls by NBC News and the Pew Research Center paint a grim picture for Democrats, and there’s not much to indicate things will improve before November, Stu Rothenberg writes.

Data check: CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa wanted to know whether more Republicans than Democrats dying from COVID-19 would result in any measurable shift in midterm voting or affect pollsters’ voter modeling. Here’s what he found out.

Rosalita, vote a little sooner: Pushing to make New Jersey one of the first states to hold a Democratic presidential primary in 2024 instead of its usual role as one of the last could have unforeseen consequences, the Bergen Record reports, including “a cringe-worthy ‘fughedabbouit’ at a candidate forum” and hearing “an angry candidate mispronounce ‘stunad’ while lashing out at a reporter.”

Battle for Senate GOP: Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, has continued to push the 11-point plan he released a few weeks ago to the frustration of other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, against whom former President Donald Trump has urged Scott to run. In an interview with the AP, Scott likened himself to General Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War, saying, “I’m going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not.”

The count: $5,000

That’s how much the campaign of Elizabeth Heng, a Republican running in next week’s special primary in California’s 22nd District, got from Country First, the leadership PAC of Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans serving on the select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. 

Nathan’s notes

Republicans could pick up three Pennsylvania seats from Democrats in November, but the seat the state lost to reapportionment came from the GOP side, Nathan’s ratings of the Keystone State show.

Candidate confessions

Democrat Hillary Scholten, who is running in Michigan’s 3rd District for the seat currently held by GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, says she has met a lot of “old school Republicans” who’ve told her they’re shifting toward the Democrats. She says it’s a story she can relate to. “I was raised in a Republican-leaning household and came to my conclusions about politics on my own,” Scholten said during a recent interview. “And right alongside so many other people, you know, people who have these sort of good old Midwestern values where we respect one another. We care for one another. Community is important. We care for the environment. We care for our neighbor.”

Scholten lost in 2020 to Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans who voted in 2021 to impeach Trump. The redrawn 3rd District leans more Democratic than the lines from 2020, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as a Toss-up. “I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘I am so frustrated with the way the Republican Party is going,’” Scholten said, adding that she’s putting a priority on outreach to college students, including at Grand Valley State University. “This has been such a traumatic few years for this generation, in particular,” she said. “This pandemic has sidelined them at a pivotal time, in their educational development, their social emotional development. And so, you know, I want these young people to know that this is a campaign that sees that, that cares about that.”

Shop talk: Brad Howard

Having most recently served as outgoing Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s chief of staff, Howard recently joined the Vogel Group as a principal. He worked on Murphy’s 2016 bid for the House after previously working for other campaigns, including in his home state of Arkansas. 

Starting out: Howard began watching the television show “The West Wing” while he was taking high school civics, “and it looked like something I kind of wanted to do, but I didn’t know you could make a career out of it until much later.” He interned for then-Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark., before going on to volunteer for various Arkansas campaigns. “I remember being an intern in the summer of 2002, right after 9/11, right after the anthrax scare, and I’m in the basement of the federal building in Fort Smith, Ark., as an intern, opening mail in a secure facility wearing a mask and gloves in a big, protective box. So even then I kind of understood the risk that you take when you enter public service.” In 2004, Howard became an independent, saying he was “turned off by the dualization of the marriage equality issue on all these state ballots.” When Hillary Clinton announced her plans to run for the White House in 2007, Howard became a Democrat and volunteered for her campaign at the local level.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: After meeting Murphy at the 2016 Democratic convention in Philadelphia, Howard began working on her first congressional campaign. That victory stands out most. “That moment, and I’ve got it on video, where I read the AP alert that comes through that says Murphy unseats Mica. The room was crazy. We have champagne. It was just an incredible moment of like, you know, to put in all this hard work. We were told at every opportunity there’s no chance she can win. We couldn’t get a lot of Democratic endorsements locally, to just come in and kind of upset — a bunch of people were responsible for that.” 

Biggest campaign regret: While working for former Rep. Baron Hill’s 2016 Senate bid in Indiana, Howard had a conversation with someone he didn’t realize was a reporter as Hill was preparing to drop out of the race. “It turned into a Politico breaking news alert and all of this stuff that we weren’t ready for. That was a comms blunder I wish I could take back,” he said. Hill not running through that race is another regret. “Baron Hill was just such a terrific candidate in Indiana that I wish he had gotten to run that race fully to the end. I understand the dynamics of what that happened, but he’s just a great person, a Hoosier through and through, and I think we could have run one hell of a campaign.”

Unconventional wisdom: “When you’re managing a race there’s always a concern of what’s going to happen after the race and the decisions you may make may impact future employment. My advice to every campaign manager out there is run a race that you are proud of, that is in line with your morals, your values, that you were honest with the candidate, but give that candidate your all, your respect and your loyalty … and the future will take care of itself.”

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

Coming up

The special primary to fill the remainder of former Rep. Devin Nunes’ term in California’s 22nd District is Tuesday. 

Photo finish

Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., demonstrates on Monday that protein is important when trying to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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This report has been corrected to reflect the location where Brad Howard was an intern opening mail in 2002.

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