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At the Races: Historic confirmation, then recess

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.

Editor’s note: At the Races will not publish next week. We’ll be back on April 21.

Before heading out for a two-week spring recess, senators today cast a history-making vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s unlikely to influence the midterm campaigns in a pivotal way, though it may energize Democrats’ core voters, especially Black Americans, to whom the party is making new overtures. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching an ad campaign aimed at Black voters, CNN reports, focused on the now-lapsed child tax credit. That comes amid some troubling polling for Democrats on the issue and polling that shows eroding support for President Joe Biden among Black voters. 

Among the three Republicans who voted today for Jackson is Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who faces a challenger backed by Donald Trump but likely won’t suffer for it given the state’s primary system, according to the Washington Examiner. It also won’t cost her the support of GOP insiders in the Senate. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure she’s successful,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Axios this morning. 

McConnell declined to make any predictions about how many seats Republicans may win in November but said if his party were to take control of the chamber, the GOP would focus on inflation, the U.S.-Mexico border and crime. But he cautioned that Republicans still “ought not to claim we can succeed in doing things exactly the way we would do them” given that Democrats will still hold the White House.

Speaking of the midterms… With the books closed on the first quarter fundraising period, candidates and PACs have begun to tout their totals ahead of the Federal Election Commission filing deadline late next week. Republicans have been downright giddy in sharing big hauls for their party’s leaders and super PACs. The House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, for one, told Punchbowl News today it had raised $37.5 million in the first quarter and held more than $90 million cash on hand. 

Some of Democrats’ star Senate candidates have continued to post eye-popping figures, including Florida Rep. Val Demings, who is seeking to oust incumbent GOP Sen. Marco Rubio this fall. Her campaign said it had raised more than $10 million in Q1 and held more than $13 million on hand.

Starting gate

China, China, China: Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan is not backing down as he faces blowback from some fellow Democrats for an ad in his Senate campaign that repeatedly blames China for workers’ economic woes. 

Departure lounge: Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton cited his efforts to “work both sides of the aisle to get things done” in announcing he’ll retire after 36 years. Fellow Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio blasted a state court battle over redistricting and pulled the plug on his reelection. Both faced Trump-backed challengers. 

Fresnovertime: The special election for the remainder of ex-Rep. Devin Nunes’ term in the 22nd District in central California is going to a June 7 runoff

Penalty box: Not only did a federal judge throw out parts of Florida’s new voting law for discriminating against Black voters, but future state voting laws will be subject to court review for 10 years, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports.

Big applesauce: New York’s Democrat-friendly district map was thrown out by a state judge, but an appeals court put that ruling on hold and allowed candidates to keep gathering petitions based on the questioned lines.

ICYMI

Special election: Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott called a June 14 emergency special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela in the 34th District. Abbott could have left the seat open until November. But his decision means the election will be held under the old congressional map, where Biden carried the district by 4 points rather than the 16-point margin Biden would have gotten under the lines that will be used in November.  

#WV02: Documents indicate that a second investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics into Rep. Alex X. Mooney looked at his use of taxpayer money and whether he may have tampered with a previous inquiry into his campaign spending, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. Mooney faces Rep. David B. McKinley in the May 10 Republican primary.

The youth vote: Tufts University researchers ranked the Senate, House and gubernatorial races where the youth vote could swing the midterm results.

Money talks: AdImpact looked at the states where House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, Democrats’ main House and Senate super PACs, have reserved a combined $182 million for advertisements this fall.

Ad pulled: Pennsylvania’s Senate Democratic primary is heating up after Lt. Gov. John Fetterman skipped a debate with rivals Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta last weekend. But Fetterman announced a big fundraising haul of $3.1 million for the first quarter of this year and Democrats in D.C. are signaling they’re okay with the progressive’s status as the frontrunner. Meanwhile, efforts to boost Lamb are being scrutinized after a super PAC backing him made “misleading claims” about Fetterman in a new ad, resulting in it being pulled from the airwaves

Passing the torch: Former Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor endorsed Jen Kiggans in the Republican primary for the 2nd District after considering running for his old seat, where Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria is in a Toss-up race. 

Trump’s seal of approval: Former President Donald Trump’s recent endorsements include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to replace the late Rep. Don Young. Trump called the one-time VP candidate a “true America First fighter” in a statement announcing his approval. Other Republicans Trump endorsed are Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Carol Miller of West Virginia, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Brian Mast of Florida and Mike Johnson of Louisiana.  

FEC vetting: The Senate Rules Committee held a hearing Wednesday vetting Democratic nominee to the FEC Dara Lindenbaum, who would replace Steven Walther, an independent who was picked by Democrats. The panel has not yet scheduled a vote on Lindenbaum’s nomination. Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz asked Lindenbaum about a complaint she had signed in support of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, alleging that some voting machines had switched votes in Abrams’ unsuccessful 2018 run, according to the conservative Washington Free Beacon

Buyers’ remorse? The Republican State Leadership Committee is out with what it calls a six-figure ad campaign “targeting Americans who regret voting for Joe Biden.” The digital spots will run in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Washington and focus on inflation, crime and education. 

Blue Dogs endorse: The moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition PAC endorsed its first slate of candidates for 2022: state Assemblymember Rudy Salas, who is running in California’s 22nd District against GOP Rep. David Valadao; state Assemblymember Adam Gray, who is running in an open seat race in California’s 13th District; and Ruben Ramirez, a lawyer and Army veteran, running in the open seat race for Texas’ 15th District. “Rather than being blindly ideological or beholden to any one party’s leadership, these candidates are independent-minded individuals who are committed to serving a diverse constituency,” said Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Blue Dog leader who is not running for reelection, in a news release.  

Missing contributions: A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that about 7 percent of K Streeters’ reports omitted campaign contributions that lobbyists are required to disclose. 

The party’s choice: State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks won the Nebraska Democratic Party’s nomination for the June 28 special election to fill the remainder of disgraced GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s term in the Solid Republican 1st District. The state Republican party has until April 22 to determine its nominee. Brooks and GOP state Sen. Mike Flood have consolidated their respective parties’ support for the May 10 primary for the seat’s next full term.

Outside investment: The Club for Growth Action launched a TV ad and a radio spot this week in support of Illinois GOP Rep. Mary Miller, who has Trump’s backing in her primary against fellow Republican Rep. Rodney Davis in the 15th District. The club said in a news release that this would be the first flight of ads in the race ahead of the June 28 primary. Davis’ campaign immediately went on the attack, calling the club a “dark money Super PAC” that opposed government subsidies to farmers. 

Taking the lead: North Carolina Rep. Ted Budd, who has Trump’s backing in the state’s Republican Senate primary, leads former Gov. Pat McCrory by 16 percentage points, a new poll by Emerson College and The Hill newspaper shows. Former Rep. Mark Walker and veteran Marjorie Eastman also trail Budd, according to the poll. Trump is set to hold a rally in the state to support Budd’s campaign this weekend. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: Fame from sports or being on TV helps candidates for Congress with name ID, but it’s not a nonstop ticket to the Hill, Stu Rothenberg writes. 

Running after Walker: CNN’s KFile mines years of Herschel Walker’s past motivational speeches to find that he has been repeating a false claim that he graduated from the University of Georgia in the top 1 percent of his class for years. Meanwhile, Super PACs supporting Walker’s opponents in the May 24 Republican primary are trying to halt the Trump-endorsed former football star’s “glide path” to the nomination with millions of dollars in attack ads.

Donor disrupters: The New York Times has the scoop on the Rockbridge Network, an emerging coalition of wealthy conservative donors that “aims to ‘disrupt but advance the Republican agenda.’”  

MAGA McCormick: With his military and business background, advanced degrees, personal charisma, and wealth, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick “has the résumé to guide the GOP into a saner, post-Trump era,” writes Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek. Instead he went in an entirely different direction, going full MAGA.

The count: $1,069,221

That’s how much six energy company executives, who testified at a hearing Wednesday on high gas prices, gave in contributions to candidates and party committees, according to an analysis of records going back to 1993 by CQ Roll Call’s Benjamin J. Hulac.

Nathan’s notes

South Carolina has some competitive House races this year, but they’re all in Republican primaries, Nathan L. Gonzales notes in his race ratings for the Palmetto State.

Candidate confessions

New Hampshire GOP candidate Matt Mowers, who is vying to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas in the 1st District, voted twice in the 2016 presidential primaries, The Associated Press reports. The report said Mowers first voted in New Hampshire and later in New Jersey, where he used his parents’ address to register, and he is defending the votes. 

“I voted in total compliance with the law,” Mowers said, according to WMUR. “I voted here in New Hampshire in the presidential primary when I was living in Manchester, and in a totally separate election – totally separate election – while living where I was working in the New York area, because remember, I was working out of Trump Tower,” Mowers said. “I then also participated in the process down there, totally in compliance with the law.”

Shop talk: Kelly Dietrich

Dietrich is the founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee, which teaches candidates and staffers how to run campaigns. He previously worked with dozens of campaigns across the country. 

Starting out: After graduating from college with a psychology degree, Dietrich worked at a mutual fund. “Not in any sexy kind of way but in customer service answering phones and doing data entry,” he said. He quickly realized he did not want to spend his life putting on a suit and tie and undergoing a long commute for that kind of work, he said. So he volunteered with his local Democratic Party. Dennis Moore, who was running for Congress in Kansas’ 3rd District, spoke at a training event and Dietrich became one of the first volunteers on his campaign. “I became hooked,” he said. “Campaigns are small businesses created overnight. There are 60,000 things to do every day and you can only get three of them done. It was more of a challenge and responsibility than I could find anywhere else, and it fulfilled my need to make a difference.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “You never forget your wins,” He said. “On election night when Dennis Moore won in 1998, he upset a Republican in a district that had not gone Democratic since the first Wilson administration. That feeling is what will make anyone addicted to politics…but a close second was doing one of the first events that the brand new [Illinois] Sen. Barack Obama was doing in the state, a [2005] fundraiser for [former Democratic Rep.] Melissa Bean. Instead of coming in the back of the hotel and coming through the ballroom, he came in the front. Imagine trying to walk the newly elected Sen. Barack Obama through hundreds of people, trying to get to the stage, seeing the looks on people’s faces. I thought there was something very special going on.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “You regret all your losses,” he said. “You always think about the things you could have done…l have messed up fundraising invitations by putting the wrong date on them, all sorts of those kinds of errors. But the one I regret I would say I have more than the others is not stepping back and thinking bigger more. That’s the point of the training committee. The training committee started when I realized it was no one’s job to help every Democrat, and that had created an ecosystem that unintentionally silos off access to experience. I wish I had that realization prior to 2016 because it is something that we as a party need to be doing more of.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Being the article at the top of the front page of the newspaper doesn’t matter anymore because the way people get their information and consume information has totally changed even in the past five years,” he said. “Democrats are faced with not only this brand new reality but up against 24-7 propaganda outlets like Fox News, talk radio, as well as social media. We need to be investing more in long-term party building to allow us to compete, as opposed to being so candidate-focused and so focused on short-term wins.”

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

Coming up

Campaigns must disclose by April 15 how much they raised and spent from January through March.

Photo finish

Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton was running in April 2018 after the House finished its final votes of the week, but he’s not running any more — he said this week he’ll retire at the end of this term. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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