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At the Races: Signs of red ahead

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.

Democrats working on the midterms got some discouraging news this week, with reports that the Biden administration is already reassigning staff to respond to GOP-led investigations into Hunter Biden’s financial dealings if Republicans take the House majority. 

The preemptive move from the White House comes amid several signals in recent weeks that party insiders are quietly abandoning hopes of holding onto the House in November, as high inflation rates continue to overshadow Democrats’ messages about how their accomplishments have improved the lives of voters. And Democrats were issued another blow Wednesday, when New York’s top court tossed out a new state congressional map that could have helped the party pick up three seats to offset any losses in other states. Meanwhile, as CQ Roll Call’s Caroline Simon and Suzanne Monyak report, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus urged President Joe Biden to take executive actions on immigration, a sign of lost hope for passing legislation. 

Some Democratic strategists we spoke with this week said they aren’t concerned. While they acknowledge that they are facing a tough cycle, they said the Biden administration is simply being prudent. They pointed out that Biden has also stepped up his travel schedule as he touts last year’s infrastructure law, promotes America’s quick emergence from the pandemic-induced recession and tries to spur Democrats in the Senate to rally around a scaled-down version of his social spending and climate change package. 

Those trips included recent stops in Iowa, where he appeared with Rep. Cindy Axne — one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents — and in New Hampshire, where Sen. Maggie Hassan is one of four Democratic incumbents in a competitive reelection bid that could determine control of the Senate. 

But Republican strategists told us they saw the Biden hires as a sign that the administration is giving up on 2022 House races, focusing instead on the 2024 battle for the White House that has already started to take shape. That’s not to say Republicans don’t have their own problems, as members of the conference get pressed to respond to audio obtained by two New York Times reporters revealing House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy blaming former President Donald Trump and criticizing far-right members of the conference after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. But McCarthy reportedly received a standing ovation when he appeared before House Republicans on Wednesday for the first time since the tapes were released, and the issue has not yet surfaced in the next round of GOP primaries, which start next week in Indiana and Ohio.

Starting gate

Nose dive: Colorado Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea released a television ad promising to “support the police and military,” using what appeared to be a stock image of Russian fighter jets

Red Sox, blue states: Don’t expect House seats to flip to the GOP in Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts unless a wave has already crashed over the country, elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Goldilocks, Act 1: A state judge says the new congressional map in Kansas went too far favoring Republicans, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone writes.

Goldilocks, Act 2: The Empire State’s highest court says the map in New York went too far to boost Democrats, Macagnone sequels.


Cawthorn’s bad news cycle: Some watchdog groups raised concerns that North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn may have violated insider trading laws when he hyped the “Let’s Go Brandon” cryptocurrency on Instagram the day before it announced a sponsorship deal with the NASCAR driver Brandon Brown and its value spiked. Cawthorn has said he owns the cryptocurrency. Cawthorn was also cited this week for bringing a gun to the Charlotte Airport. The developments come as Cawthorn has drawn the ire of his home state Sen. Thom Tillis. A super PAC aligned with Tillis is spending six figures on ads to support one of Cawthorn’s Republican primary challengers, state Sen. Chuck Edwards.

Inflated: The National Republican Congressional Committee released ads blaming Democrats in 10 districts they are targeting for inflation. In a press release, NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer blamed House Democrats who voted for “trillions in reckless spending that funded luxury hotels, golf courses and ski resorts.” “Now every American is paying a $5,200 inflation tax every year,” he said.    

On the radar: The NRCC named 30 additional candidates to its “On The Radar” program, which highlights candidates who have hit certain benchmarks to be considered serious contenders, and can include multiple people seeking the same nomination. The candidates are Kevin Kiley and Scott Jones in California’s 3rd District; Tom Patti in California’s 9th; John Duarte in California’s 13th; Lisa Bartlett in California’s 49th; Tim Reichert in Colorado’s 7th; Kevin Hayslett in Florida’s 13th; Jackie Toledo in Florida’s 14th; Jeremy Hunt in Georgia’s 2nd; Gary Grasso and Keith Pekau in Illinois’ 6th; Jesse Reising in Illinois’ 13th; Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana’s 1st; Paul Junge in Michigan’s 8th; Tom Weiler in Minnesota’s 3rd;  Sandy Roberson in North Carolina’s 1st; Bo Hines, Kelly Daughtry and Kent Keirsey in North Carolina’s 13th; David Brog and Carolina Serrano in Nevada’s 1st; Nick LaLota in New York’s 1st; Guy Ciarrocchi in Pennsylvania’s 6th; Jeremy Shaffer in Pennsylvania’s 17th; Allan Fung in Rhode Island’s 2nd; Cassy Garcia in Texas’ 28th; Bryce Reeves, Yesli Vega and Crystal Vanuch in Virginia’s 7th; and Hung Cao in Virginia’s 10th.

Super spending: The Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with the House GOP leaders, announced $125 million in initial ad reservations for this year across 48 media markets that could cover 46 districts. Of that, $111 million would be for offensive ads targeting districts currently held by Democrats, while $14 million is reserved to defend Republican-held seats. The reservations include $1.9 million to target DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in New York’s 18th District; $2.5 million to target Rep. Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s 7th; $2.2 million for an open seat in Texas’ 15th; $3.9 million in Texas’ 28th, where Rep. Henry Cuellar faces a runoff against Democratic challenger Jessica Cisneros; $1.8 million to target Rep. Katie Porter in California’s 47th; and $1.6 million for an open seat in California’s 13th. CLF is also reserving $1.7 million to defend Rep. Michelle Steel in California’s 45th; $1.8 million to defend Rep. Mike Garcia in California’s 27th; $600,000 to defend Rep. Young Kim in California’s 40th; and $3 million to defend Rep. David Valadao in California’s 22nd. 

#CA45: Democratic candidate Jay Chen, who is seeking to oust California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, blasted Steel in an Orange County Register op-ed, saying she had falsely accused him of “mocking her accent.” Steel, who was born in Seoul, took offense when Chen said “you kind of need an interpreter to figure out exactly what she’s saying.” In the op-ed, Chen notes that his parents hailed from Taiwan.

Midterm influence: K Street’s 10 biggest spenders shelled out a combined $75.3 million in the first quarter, and several top firms reported an increase in lobby fees, as the lobbying sector turns its attention to the 2022 midterms. “Looking forward, everyone in town is deciding how to be best positioned for what may be a change in the dynamic of the power structure in Washington,” GOP lobbyist Marc Lampkin said.

Beaver State brawl: Oregon Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, who faces a serious primary challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the 5th District, nabbed an endorsement from President Biden recently, but that hardly seals his victory toward an eighth term. McLeod-Skinner, who is running to Schrader’s left, has picked up numerous endorsements from local party chapters, NBC News reports. And this week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee backed McLeod-Skinner, calling Schrader one of the most obstructionist House Democrats.

STEM club: The science, technology, engineering and math-focused 314 Action Fund endorsed John Selker, an agricultural engineer and professor at Oregon State University, in the crowded Democratic primary for Oregon’s 4th District, the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio

#NM01: A watchdog group’s complaint to the Federal Election Commission alleges a New Mexico GOP official and relatives ran $100,000 through a shell company into a super PAC that attacked Democrat Melanie Stansbury in her successful special election run in the 1st District last year, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Border politics: New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan’s recent trip to the southern border has drawn criticism from other Democrats in the state, according to Politico. Hassan is one of several vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year who have criticized the Biden administration’s plans to lift Title 42, a pandemic-era directive that allowed border officials to expel asylum-seeking migrants at the country’s borders. 

Crypto candidate: Steve Bannon, a former aide to then-President Trump, is helping Brock Pierce, a cryptocurrency mogul who is running to succeed retiring Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, in his long-shot campaign. Bannon told Pierce “to caucus with whichever party ends up in control of the Senate,” if he is elected. 

Boldface name: Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy joined the roster of other influential D.C. Republicans supporting Jennifer Strahan’s challenge to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in the Republican primary in Georgia’s 14th District. Cassidy will headline a May 3 reception in Strahan’s honor hosted by VIEW PAC, a political action committee supporting Republican women.

Stone throw: Trump ally Roger Stone said he is considering a GOP primary challenge to Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida. 

Still redistricting: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu criticized a new proposed congressional map that would mean both incumbents, Democratic Reps. Ann McLane Kuster and Chris Pappas, live in the same district. The State Redistricting Committee narrowly approved the map, 8-7, on Wednesday. 

Whipping votes: House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn announced he would attend a rally for Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in South Texas ahead of Cuellar’s primary runoff election against progressive Jessica Cisneros. 

Gassing up: In an attempt to hit back at GOP attacks on rising gas prices, the DCCC launched a billboard campaign in suburban Kansas City highlighting 3rd District GOP candidate Amanda Adkins’ opposition to a gas tax holiday supported by Democratic incumbent Sharice Davids, her likely opponent. 

Spam folder: The Republican National Committee, along with the GOP’s House and Senate campaign arms, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging Google’s “censorship of Republican fundraising emails” by sending them to recipients’ spam folders, according to a news release.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Several Republicans are angling to get into the 2024 race if Trump doesn’t run again, and some may even run against him. But on the Democratic side, Stu Rothenberg says it’s hard to see anyone besides Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris at the top of the ticket.

The rural vote: Maine state Sen. Chloe Maxim and Canyon Woodward, her former campaign manager and the co-author of their upcoming book “Dirt Road Revival,” joined The New Yorker’s Politics and More podcast for a discussion of how Democrats abandoned rural voters and how they can win them back in the midterms and beyond. 

Summertime: The 19th News profiles progressive candidate Summer Lee, the front-runner to win the Democratic nomination in an open seat race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District. If Lee were to win in November, she would be the first Black woman to represent the Keystone State in Congress.

Friendly fire: Arsenal Media, co-founded by Benny Johnson, helps conservative politicians go viral, but a half dozen former employees dished to the Verge about what they described as a toxic, bullying work environment.

The count: 4

That’s how many days, according to The Dispatch, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist voted in person in Washington this year as he runs for governor of Florida. Yet because of the proxy system the House implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Crist didn’t miss a single vote.

Nathan’s notes

Early in the cycle, this year’s Senate elections had the potential to boost the number of Black senators and female senators. Now it’s looking like a white dude summer is ahead. 

Candidate confessions

Andrea Salinas, a contender for the Democratic nomination in Oregon’s new 6th District, confessed to being perplexed recently about one of her party’s top super PACs investing big money on behalf of Carrick Flynn, another candidate in the race. “That’s the million-dollar question,” Salinas said during a recent interview. House Majority PAC is supporting Flynn with $1 million, raising eyebrows from Oregon to Washington, D.C. Other outside groups have already spent millions in the primary race, too. Salinas, a member of the Oregon House of Representatives, has the support of BOLD PAC, which has ties to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. BOLD PAC is now laying down a $1 million buy in support of Salinas, according to its executive director Victoria McGroary. 

“With this investment, we’re doubling down on our commitment to increase diversity in Congress while ensuring that Democrats have the best chance to defend our majorities,” McGroary said. “Andrea is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, a working mom, and a long-time community advocate with a proven track record of delivering for Oregon’s working families — that’s why we encouraged her to run for Congress and that’s why we stand behind her and her strong campaign.”

Salinas said that last year she introduced a campaign finance overhaul measure in the Oregon legislature. “I know voters don’t like money in politics,” she said. “It makes people feel separated from the process.” Her bill, she added, didn’t pass. “It was highly controversial.” Even some Democrats didn’t favor it, she noted.  

Shop talk: Rory McShane

McShane runs a consulting firm whose clients include some of the House’s most conservative members, like Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar and Virginia Rep. Bob Good

Starting out: “I did the same thing everybody else did in this business to start it out. I was a paid door knocker,” McShane says. “My first campaign was in 2007, I knocked doors on a state Senate race in Virginia, and then I knocked doors on a state House race in Virginia, and then I was field director of a state Senate race in Maryland, and kind of moved up the campaign ranks to work on gradually better campaigns.” After moving around the country to work on different campaigns, he worked for a pair of consulting firms before starting his own. “I get to be competitive for a living. I’ve always been a conservative, I’ve always loved politics and been interested in it, but I get to be competitive for a living.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Election nights, win or lose, are always huge, and there’s always a flood of emotion that goes into any election night, win or lose. So there have been a number of them. We did [2021 lieutenant governor candidate] Winsome Sears’ primary in Virginia, the convention. And obviously winning that convention was huge and was an elating feeling. The last race I managed as a day-to-day manager was a governor’s race in Colorado and we lost that. The candidate had become a good friend of mine and that was hard to do. We won a big secretary of state’s race in Montana last cycle, and again, that election night, both the primary and the general since we weren’t supposed to win it, was elating. Those moments, that emotion, is hard to replace.”

Biggest campaign regret: “Every tough race I’ve ever lost in my career, I can point to a time that I trusted my gut over data,” McShane said. “I had a race last cycle, where we didn’t have much of a budget, so I forewent polling and analytical modeling, and I relied on a poll that I had heard the state party had commissioned that they had told us had a ballot measure passing by 20 points, and we essentially tied our entire campaign to the ballot measure,” he said, declining to go into detail to protect a client’s privacy. “Instead of passing by 20 points, the ballot measure failed by 20 points. That was an instance of thinking I was trusting data, but in fact trusting my gut on someone else’s data. I don’t know if that’s the biggest regret, but it’s definitely up there, and it’s one of the races that keep me up at night and make me think, had I made some different strategic decisions we probably would have been successful.”

Unconventional wisdom: “There’s a tendency in the industry to want to get ahead by making friends with all the people in the right positions, whoever is staffing the big 527 groups and the national committees and the people in leadership and stuff like that, and never wanting to be on the wrong side of them. My experience is that if you win, it doesn’t matter. Everybody becomes friends with a winner, so work your heart out for your clients. It doesn’t matter the enemies you make, because when you win they’ll all be your friends anyway.”

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Coming up

It’s prime-ary time! Voters pick nominees in Indiana and Ohio on Tuesday.

Photo finish

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives at the Capitol after a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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