At the Races: Still Roe-verberating

Posted May 12, 2022 at 2:30pm

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When the Senate voted Wednesday to consider a bill to expand abortion rights, Democrats knew the procedural step would fall short of the 60 votes needed. But it will give their vulnerable members an opportunity to tout their support for Roe v. Wade on the campaign trail, underscoring their hopes that abortion will bring Democratic voters to the polls in a way that Republicans have historically used the topic. 

“Read below to understand why I voted to defend reproductive freedom, then sign your name if you agree that such a personal health care decision should be between a woman and her doctor,” Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet said in an email blast after the vote, encouraging people to join a list that can help campaigns build their fundraising efforts. 

More than a week after a leaked draft opinion showing the Supreme Court may be poised to overturn Roe, campaigns are still responding to the political earthquake. But with less than six months to go until Election Day, it’s not clear how much a procedural vote meant to put senators on the record on the issue will impact key races.

Republicans, after initially focusing most of their response on outrage over the breach of court secrecy, have shared personal stories they say shape their stance on abortion as the May primary march continues. 

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is vying to challenge Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, talked during a debate Tuesday about his mother being pushed to have an abortion.
"Let me first just say why I'm pro-life. My mother had me out of wedlock in the 1970s," said Laxalt, whose father is the late Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M. "She was in her early 20s, no college degree. She got a tremendous amount of pressure to not bring me into this world."

Starting gate

Most vulnerable incumbents: Six months from Election Day, uncertainty dominates the map. The 10 most vulnerable senators range from the deeply endangered to incumbents who may encounter emerging and onerous headwinds, depending on how the issues and potential opponents shake out. The 10 most vulnerable House members face different threats, including in primaries that will settle their fates in the coming months.

See ya: New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed, who had already opted not to run for reelection this fall, resigned his seat Tuesday to take a lobbying job at Prime Policy Group, saying on the House floor he hoped “to have a greater impact on the country.”

Florida man’s plan: Democrats are stepping up their messaging against Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s plan “to rescue America,” launching a round of Facebook ads aimed at seniors in battleground Senate states warning of a threat to Social Security and Medicare, CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski writes. Scott, chair of the National Republican Senate Committee, is responding with his own ads, boasting the plan must be good because, “Washington hates it.”

Deal sealed: Rep. Alex X. Mooney’s landslide defeat of GOP colleague David B. McKinley reinforced the belief House Republicans had that former President Donald Trump’s endorsement is vital, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports.

ICYMI

Endorsement watch: House GOP Conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC has put out a new round of endorsements, including for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is seeking the state’s at-large House seat. The new endorsements also include nods to Jennifer-Ruth Green, who is running against Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan in Indiana’s 1st District, and Catalina Lauf, who is running for the GOP nomination in Illinois’ 11th District. Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon endorsed Matthew Foldi, a former GOP operative and conservative-media reporter, who is a contender in the primary for Maryland’s 6th District, currently represented by Democrat David Trone. The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC endorsed Andrea Salinas in the competitive Democratic primary for Oregon’s 6th District. 

Red to Blue: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Thursday it is adding Colorado state Rep. Yadira Caraveo and Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas to its “Red To Blue” program, which funnels money and support to candidates in districts the committee is hoping to flip. Caraveo, a pediatrician whose family relocated to Colorado from Mexico, is running in the competitive race for the state’s newly created 8th District. Vargas, a former educator and school board member, won the Democratic nomination this week to challenge Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District, a race rated Lean Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

Combat ready?: In a new ad, Republican Army veteran Cory Mills, who is running in Florida’s 7th District, claims the company he founded produced tear gas munitions used against “Hillary Clinton protestors,” “left wing protestors,” “Antifa rioters” and “Black Lives Matter protestors.” Then Mills, who is wearing combat fatigues and holding a riot gun, turns to the camera and addresses the “liberal media” that is “crying about it.” “If the media wants to shed some real tears,” he says with a smile, “I can help them out with that.”

Debating exceptions: Rep. Nancy Mace, who has spoken of being raped at age 16, said on CBS’ "Face the Nation" that “the vast majority of Republicans support” allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. Katie Arrington, who is challenging Mace in a Republican primary in South Carolina’s 1st District, said people who support exceptions, including Mace, “are complicit in the systematic killing of millions of unborn babies.” 

Room for nuance? A Pew survey released Friday found “relatively few Americans on either side of the debate take an absolutist view on the legality of abortion — either supporting or opposing it at all times, regardless of circumstances.” The survey was conducted in March, after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case challenging Roe v. Wade but before the draft opinion was leaked.

Stand by your vote: South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice defended his vote to impeach Trump in a debate with four of the leading candidates who are challenging him in his June 14 GOP primary. “Democracy is a fragile thing,” Rice said, “and the one thing we have to protect us from tyranny is our Constitution, and our Constitution has to be protected at all costs.” Rice also released his first attack ad of the race, going after Trump-backed state Rep. Russell Fry for missed votes and raising state taxes. 

Fund the police: A group of Democrats that includes some of the most vulnerable members of the caucus is pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on a bipartisan bill to increase police funding ahead of the midterms, as the GOP prepares to step up attacks on rising crime rates.

Georgia on his mind: Trump endorsed former Georgia state ethics commission chairman Jake Evans in the crowded race in the newly Republican-leaning 6th District. Evans’ father, Randy Evans, was a prominent Trump donor and served as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg in his administration.

It’s official: Rep. Kai Kahele made his bid for Hawaii’s gubernatorial race official, but the first-term Democrat could have a difficult time financing his campaign. Kahele said he would only accept contributions of less than $100 and would rely on Hawaii’s campaign spending commission, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat. He is prohibited from using the $456,000 that he had on hand at the end of March for his congressional reelection campaign for this race. 

Celebrity appeal: Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath relied on some celebrity starpower recently for fundraising help in the final stretch before her May 24 member-vs.-member primary against Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux. Actor Julianne Moore told would-be donors in a fundraising email that McBath “must win this primary and the election in November” to continue her work on gun-control policy.  

Out of bounds:  Illinois Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi’s campaign canceled a fundraiser scheduled for Tuesday night after a pair of lobbyists invited donors to attend the event and talk with him about a probe he’s leading into the Washington Commanders football team and its owner, Dan Snyder. 

Do they get Labor Day off?: The DCCC voluntarily recognized a union of its staff members, forming the Democratic Party’s largest bargaining unit. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: A leaked opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade has definitely made abortion a more important issue for the midterms, but there’s no way to tell what other issues will dominate voters’ minds when the voting actually happens this fall, Stu Rothenberg writes. 

Uphill: Democrat Nina Turner’s back-to-back primary losses to Rep. Shontel Brown in Ohio’s 11th District have progressives struggling for momentum, according to The Hill.  

Trump test: Trump’s endorsement helped propel Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance to victory last week, but the power of his endorsement will continue to be tested in primaries later this month in Pennsylvania and Georgia, the AP reports.

NY redistricting: Jonathan Cervas, a professor “whose professional life has been devoted to studying demographics, political behavior, and mapping,” is tasked with redrawing New York’s congressional and Senate district lines by May 20. Bloomberg Government looks at how Cervas’ career and reputation have set him up for this moment. 

#VA02: Jarome Bell, a Republican vying to challenge Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, told the Virginian-Pilot he stood by a tweet that called for the execution of anyone involved in election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Sacred divisions: The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta examines how politics poisoned the evangelical church, with divisions over Donald Trump.  

Surprise surge? Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette has surged in a pair of polls released this week ahead of Pennsylvania's GOP Senate primary election on Tuesday. She has been greatly outspent by Mehmet Oz and David McCormick, who have each spent millions attacking each other on the airwaves, but Club for Growth Action announced an ad buy supporting her. Politico takes a look at Barnette’s campaign and whether she could be a surprise GOP nominee. 

The count: 12 percent

That’s the share of Tuesday’s Republican primary vote in Nebraska’s 1st District — more than 9,500 votes — that won't be counted, according to The Associated Press, because the votes were cast for former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who quit the race after ballots were set. Fortenberry resigned in March and ended his reelection campaign after being convicted of lying to authorities about illegal campaign contributions. State Sen. Mike Flood, who had been challenging Fortenberry before the verdict, cruised to the nomination with nearly 74 percent of the vote. Three other candidates finished behind Fortenberry.  

Nathan’s notes

Looking toward the elections less than six months away, Nathan L. Gonzales sees Republicans taking the House and picking up one to three Senate seats as the most likely outcome. That is, if the GOP can stay out of its own way.

Candidate confessions

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who won reelection in 2020, kicked off her stand-up act at Wednesday’s annual Washington Press Club Foundation congressional dinner with something of a shout-out to Manu Raju, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent (and a CQ alum). 

“Manu!” she exclaimed from the podium, saying she had spotted him at the dinner. “He's a favorite come election time on the campaign trail. I swear in 2020 when I was running, I would try and find any avenue so I could avoid Manu. Seriously. And I would duck down an obscure hallway to get away from him, and who would pop out of the darkness? It would be Manu.”

Shop talk: Kelly Johnson

Formerly the creative director at the Republican National Committee, Johnson recently joined the communications firm Narrative Strategies as senior graphic designer. When she’s not working on political or client campaigns, you can find her making tiki cocktails, something she took up during the pandemic, or hanging outside with her golden retriever.

Starting out: Johnson interned for then-Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s unsuccessful 2016 reelection campaign. “I literally had never been to New Hampshire, or even north of New York,” she said, adding that she got the intern gig through a University of Mississippi connection. The Ayotte campaign’s digital director was a fellow Ole Miss alum. “I feel like I got the full intern experience — going to the little town parades, making yard signs.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “When I was working on the Ayotte campaign, I lived with the comms director in a super old building in Manchester,” Johnson recalled. “I was cooking one night and doing some laundry, and I see a bat in the apartment. Long story short, half of the campaign staff was in the apartment, trying to force the bat out of the window.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “I’d have to say, just not setting boundaries early on in my career, mostly with time,” Johnson said. “There’s a fine line between realizing you’re really important to your job and the campaign, but also realizing that they will exist without you, even if you’re not there 24/7 and constantly on your phone. I wish I had done that. When you’re younger, newer, you want to be the person there constantly, but I think there’s a good balance you can find.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “It should be way more obvious and something I wish my younger self would have realized: Making friends in D.C. and on campaigns, just for the purpose of making friends, not just to social climb or get the next job,” she said. “You’re working with these people late nights, and having real personal connections with them is super important. ... Seek out genuine friends.”

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

Coming up

Open Senate seats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania will grab the most attention in Tuesday’s primaries, which also include voting in Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon.

Photo finish

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, left, talks with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., before an Armed Services Committee hearing in 2017. If this had been in 2020, we would have surmised Ernst was asking: "Is Manu still out there?" (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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