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.
Congress may still be on recess, but we stayed busy this week analyzing candidates’ first-quarter fundraising reports, which offer a look at their bank accounts ahead of primary season picking up next month.
The filings show that candidates are gearing up for another year of expensive elections, with more House candidates raising at least $1 million and candidate loans fueling intense primary battles in some states.
While members and candidates have been out raising money and campaigning, the political dynamics of this year’s campaigns continue to take shape.
Earlier this week, a federal judge struck down the federal mask mandate for travelers on airplanes and public transportation. The Biden administration said Wednesday it would appeal the decision, which law professors cheered, saying it was worth the political risk to try to uphold administrative law, CQ Roll Call’s Jessica Wehrman reports, even as Republicans criticized the move.
An Associated Press-NORC poll taken before the ruling and released Wednesday found that 56 percent of Americans favored requiring passengers on planes, trains and other forms of transit to wear face masks. The poll found a sharp partisan tilt to peoples’ opinions, with 33 percent of Republicans favoring mask requirements on planes compared to 80 percent of Democrats. Mask requirements and the federal response to the pandemic could continue to motivate voters this year.
COVID-19 will likely recapture lawmakers’ focus when they return to Capitol Hill next week, as they are expected to continue work on a pandemic funding package that stalled before the break.
Democrats may also try to revive a bill that’s been stalled even longer — the reconciliation measure formerly known as “Build Back Better,” which some of the party’s incumbents say they should pass soon to give themselves another legislative achievement to point to on the campaign trail.
Whine country: President Joe Biden is headed to Oregon to tout infrastructure, but Democrats in a newly created and fairly blue House district that includes Willamette County are riled up about the support House Majority PAC is pouring in for one candidate in a crowded primary.
Sunshine hardball: Florida's legislature approved a new map that would dismantle a Black opportunity district and give Republicans the chance to capture several more House seats, CQ Roll Call's Michael Macagnone reports.
Survey says: What good are generic poll questions about Democrats vs. Republicans when voters will choose between actual candidates? Elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales and host Jason Dick explore the answers on the "Political Theater" podcast.
It makes the world go ’round: New campaign finance filings for January through March showed that several senators facing reelection built massive war chests, while some challengers and candidates seeking open seats poured in millions of their own money; some House members facing colleagues in primaries are struggling, but no one’s setting the world on fire; some incumbents were outraised, but not the ones facing challengers backed by former President Donald Trump; and a couple of senators and lobbyists are assisting challengers to lightning rod House Republicans. And the icing on the campaign cake is our discussion with Jason on a podcast about the numbers, including how raising a million dollars isn’t as jaw-dropping as it once was.
#NJ10: Facing a primary challenger who outraised him in one quarter last year, New Jersey Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. has stepped up his campaign efforts ahead of a June primary, both in fundraising and in touting his record to constituents. The Democrat has earned support from many of his colleagues, including progressives.
Rating the races: In Washington state, Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier’s seat is up for grabs, Nathan writes. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, where seats flipped often over the past decade, the only district with the potential to do it this year is Democratic Rep. Angie Craig’s.
Putting one on the board?: Republicans seeking to win back the House see an opportunity for a symbolic victory in South Texas, where a June 14 special election to replace former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela has given the GOP its best chance to flip a House seat since the 2020 elections.
On island time: Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele of Hawaii has been mostly absent from Capitol Hill this year, voting by proxy for all but three days in January, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. Kahele, who has continued to work as a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines under a unique arrangement while in office, has said he would consider running for governor this year.
Israeli relations: Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for the state’s Democratic Senate nomination, affirmed his commitment to the U.S.’ relationship with Israel, telling Jewish Insider: “I’m not really a progressive in that sense.”
Ballot removal: The Tennessee GOP disqualified former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, who had Trump’s endorsement, and two other people from the August primary ballot in the state's 5th Congressional District, NBC News reported.
#OK Sen: Scott Pruitt, a Trump-era head of the Environmental Protection Agency who resigned amid ethics scandals, joined the crowded GOP primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe in Oklahoma.
Endorsement watch: After backing Nina Turner in last year’s special election in Ohio’s 11th District, the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC has endorsed Rep. Shontel Brown, who beat Turner and faces her again in this year’s primary. Brown is a member of the CPC. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker endorsed Asif Mahmood, a Democratic doctor running to oust GOP Rep. Young Kim in California’s 40th District. The conservative Club for Growth PAC said Republican Rep. Greg Steube, who is running for reelection in Florida’s 17th District, has its backing. “He consistently votes in favor of limiting government, lowering government spending, and lowering taxes,” said the club’s president, David McIntosh, in a news release. Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued her slate of recent endorsements with a nod for Summer Lee, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania's 12th District. And Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., backed Katie Arrington, who already has Trump’s backing, over incumbent GOP Rep. Nancy Mace, in South Carolina’s 1st District.
New PAC: Heritage Action is launching a new Super PAC, the Sentinel Action Fund, to support conservative candidates as Republicans look to win back control of the House and Senate, Fox News reports.
Not staying there: Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he would stump for Senate candidate Adam Laxalt in Las Vegas, an unusual move for the Florida governor, who is widely thought to be prepping a 2024 presidential bid.
Controversial comments: More than 20 local leaders in California have called on Democratic congressional candidate Jay Chen to apologize for comments he made, seemingly about GOP Rep. Michelle Steel’s accent, Fox News reported. Chen, in comments recorded on video, said, “You kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying," which Steel, who was born in South Korea, took as criticism of her accent.
What we’re reading
Trump translating: When Trump says he hates people who brag, while he’s bragging about hitting a hole-in-one, it’s easy to get what he’s saying. But as CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett notes, it’s worth paying attention when, in discussing a possible 2024 run, he brings up that being a candidate means “you always have to talk about health” and it’s not good when doctors say they want you to come and see them “again.”
NRSC’s leader: The Washington Post profiles Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and who has doubled down on a policy plan for Republicans, if they win back the majority, that has split the GOP Senate leadership and Democrats are cheering on.
Back to school: The Wall Street Journal went to New Jersey to chronicle the frustrated liberal parents, angered by problems with pandemic-era schooling, who may drive GOP gains in battleground districts there.
Outside threat assessment: Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto leads Laxalt, the former attorney general, by 8 percentage points, “but voter economic angst and Biden’s low approval rating — lower than Trump is viewed right now — could threaten her reelection bid,” according to the Nevada Independent.
Internally divided: The Wall Street Journal travels to Arizona to explore divisions within both parties surfacing in the state’s midterm elections, as independents become the state’s fastest growing voter bloc.
New logic: Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is running for reelection with a campaign that defies political logic for a vulnerable incumbent in a swing state, embracing conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the 2020 election. But GOP strategists say Johnson’s “unfiltered remarks are generating enthusiasm among a party base conditioned by Donald Trump, and appealing to independents who loathe Washington,” Politico reports.
Police visit: Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who has opposed rhetoric within her party to “defund the police,” recently spent a day addressing a local police department and joined a ride-along, providing an example to other Democrats who want to preempt Republican attacks on crime, according to Politico.
Say what?: Axios takes a look at how often, and in what context, members of Congress talk about inflation and found that Republicans mentioned it six times more often than Democrats. The Democrats who bring up the issue the most include progressives like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who wrote a New York Times op-ed over the weekend blaming “giant corporations” for price gouging — and a few Democrats in competitive reelection campaigns.
The count: 0.26%
That’s how much of the $124 million raised so far by Save America, the leadership PAC run by Trump, went to federal candidates, according to the campaign finance tracking group OpenSecrets.
Candidates are required by both the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to include a line on their TV ads identifying themselves. But analyzing ads of a well-known Pennsylvania Senate contender, Nathan checks on whether that means they have to use their first name.
Retiring New York Rep. John Katko, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, said at an event at Syracuse University last week that there was one reason he sometimes regretted his decision to forgo a 2022 campaign. “I’ll be honest, from a competitive standpoint I wanted to stay to prove certain naysayers wrong who shall not be named,” he said. “But that’s not a reason to stay.” He added that he was “confident” he would have won reelection even under new district lines. A map signed by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in February dissolved Katko’s current 22nd District and replaced it with one that would have voted for Biden by 18 points. It is unclear whether that map will be used in November after a legal challenge brought by Republicans. “Basically, we did the analysis, and I’m pretty sure I would have been [reelected],” Katko said. “But it just seemed like the right time, and I’m very pleased with what I’m doing.”
Shop talk: Nathan Click
Click, a Democratic political communications consultant who runs his own shop, Click Strategies, is advising a number of congressional candidates this cycle, including Asif Mahmood, who is seeking to oust California GOP Rep. Young Kim. A veteran of VP Kamala Harris’ 2016 Senate campaign, Click has also worked for California Gov. Gavin Newsom and is helping with the 2022 campaign of Rep. Katie Porter. When he isn’t working, you might find him surfing, a sport he took up seven years ago after moving to California from Indiana. “It’s honestly the best way to start a day,” he confided.
Starting out: “I was obsessed with campaigns as a young kid, like weirdly obsessed,” Click said. “One of my first memories is my dad telling me who won the 1992 election. … It was an interest that kind of grew throughout my childhood.” One of his first campaign experiences, Click recalled, came in high school, when he signed on as a student volunteer leader in support of a slate of three school board candidates in suburban Indianapolis. “All three candidates won,” he said. After that, he was hooked. “Every summer in college, I was on a campaign or in a political office doing internships, and joined my first Senate race right out of college.”
Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I’m a huge ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ fan,” Click said. “I had been working as Gavin Newsom’s communications director on his 2018 gubernatorial campaign when a colleague and I realized that RuPaul was a huge fan of Newsom’s wife’s work.” Jennifer Siebel Newsom is a documentary filmmaker whose work has examined gender roles in America. “We did some connecting behind the scenes, and a few weeks later, Newsom got to go on set with RuPaul and did a PSA for his campaign,” Click recalled. “I’m not somebody who gets starstruck, but I was on cloud nine. It was the best campaign world day of my life.”
Biggest campaign regret: “I try not to have regrets,” Click said. “I look at it as every campaign I work on is an opportunity to learn something new. I’m always learning and refining and sometimes unlearning.”
Unconventional wisdom: “So many people who work in politics are used to speaking to each other that they create content for campaigns that aren’t really addressed to normal people,” he said. “Regular voters spend so little of their time thinking about politics, but our political culture and political hacks, like myself, have all this jargon and euphemisms that are just incomprehensible to regular voters — budget speak, continuing resolutions, long winding trips through acronym-land. If you simply explain to voters what you’re trying to accomplish — what is the end result that you're trying to achieve in that voter’s life — they might actually be able to understand your point.”
Do you know someone who works in campaigns whom we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at email@example.com.