At the Races: Divisions on display

Posted May 26, 2022 at 2:30pm

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The massacre of little schoolchildren and their teachers this week in Uvalde, Texas, reminds us not only of the fragility of life, but also the uncertainty about what issues will dominate the midterm campaigns. Democratic senators have begun to see whether they might bring along 10 Republicans to pass legislation to expand background checks or to remove guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others. The issue of gun violence will likely be among the factors that voters, and donors, consider over the coming months, along with abortion and voting rights, high inflation and COVID-19. 

The gun control debate divides Democrats and Republicans almost entirely along their party lines, now that most pro-gun-rights Democrats have lost or left Congress and ditto for moderate Northeastern Republicans. But this week’s primaries continued to put on display divisions within the parties, including a runoff featuring one of the last anti-abortion and pro-gun-rights Democrats on the Hill: Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar. He has declared victory over challenger Jessica Cisneros, a progressive attorney, though The Associated Press hasn’t called the race. House Democratic leaders’ public campaigning for Cuellar angered progressives, such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called it a “failure of leadership.” Primaries will pick back up next month with high-profile contests in nearly 20 states, including California.

Democrats running for Senate have renewed their calls for an end to the chamber’s filibuster rules, requiring 60 votes to approve nearly all legislation, as a way forward on gun control measures. It’s a message they’ve invoked often and with urgency this year, including for bills to codify abortion rights and strengthen voting rights. Democrats made voting rights an early priority, saying they needed to supersede GOP state laws, such as in Georgia, that Democrats argued would lead to voter suppression and an unraveling of democracy. That argument got something of a reality check this week with high turnout in the primaries. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats had riled up a “torrent of hysteria” about the Georgia law as a way to push their election law overhaul. “This whole episode proves exactly why our democracy needs its cooling saucer,” he said on the Senate floor.

Starting gate

We got this: We know! Primaries in Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas, runoffs in Texas and a special election in Minnesota were a lot to keep track of. Don’t worry. We have a rundown of all the key results here, and some takeaways about what Tuesday’s results say about where both parties are headed as they prepare for the midterms. 

McBath wins: In the first Democratic member-on-member primary of the cycle, Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath easily defeated her more moderate colleague Carolyn Bourdeaux in the suburban Atlanta 7th District. 

Not giving up: Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, announced a seven-figure ad buy supporting North Carolina candidate Cheri Beasley, showing that the group thinks she can be competitive against GOP Rep. Ted Budd in the race for an open seat. 

Political money: Senate Democrats’ campaign arm hauled in $8.2 million last month, slightly more than its GOP counterpart, as both committees gear up for potential record-shattering expenditures in this year’s midterm elections.

Commish confirmed: The Senate confirmed Democrat Dara Lindenbaum to the Federal Election Commission this week, making her the fifth new commissioner since May 2020.

ICYMI

Still counting in Oregon: The electoral fate of Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat in Oregon’s 5th District, still has not yet been determined. But he’s been trailing challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner since the votes started rolling in after the May 17 primary. McLeod-Skinner had 58 percent to Schrader’s 42 percent as of the latest Associated Press update late Wednesday. The long delay stems from ballot-printing problems in Clackamas County, where Schrader resides. 

… and Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman said she would order a recount in the state’s Republican Senate primary, which is required under state law because Mehmet Oz and David McCormick are separated by less than one-half of 1 percentage point. McCormick, who is trailing, filed a lawsuit this week arguing that undated mail-in ballots should be counted. That’s not allowed under state law, and the state Republican Party is defending that law. Oz’s campaign said McCormick was “following the Democrats’ playbook.”

... and Texas: In addition to the Cuellar-Cisneros race in the 28th District, counting  is also still underway in the Democratic primary runoff for the competitive 15th District in Texas. As of Thursday morning, progressive activist Michelle Vallejo had a 20-vote lead over attorney and Army veteran Ruben Ramirez, the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reported. 

Fetterman recovering: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania’s Senate race, returned home as he recovered from a stroke that has sidelined him from the campaign trail without a set return date. The Washington Post reports that Democrats don’t think they are at a disadvantage as he recovers, particularly given that the Republican primary is still not settled. 

Bad math: A Census Bureau report found significant miscounts in 14 states on the 2020 census, after those numbers were used to divvy up congressional districts and Electoral College votes for the next decade. 

Summer spending: One Nation, an organization with ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced a $43.5 million ad buy for this summer across Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada and Wisconsin focused in part on record-high inflation. 

Endorsement watch: Pro-Israel America and its PAC are supporting Glenn Ivey in the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 4th District. Ivey is facing former Rep. Donna Edwards. End Citizens United and Let America Vote endorsed Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan for Senate.

#OHSen: Speaking of Ryan, he issued his first ad of the general election for an open Senate seat, hitting Republican nominee J.D. Vance for past comments that manufacturing jobs may no longer be an option for longtime workers.  

Casten v. Newman: Illinois Rep. Sean Casten holds the edge over Rep. Marie Newman in the 6th District Democratic primary, according to a Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll featured in the Chicago Sun-Times. “The trend is troubling for Newman; her positives are going down and Casten’s are going up,” the Sun-Times wrote. The two incumbents are running against each other after the state lost one House seat in reapportionment. 

Price tag of democracy: A new report from the National Institute for Civil Discourse examined the cost of conducting elections. “The resource challenges experienced by state and local election officials in 2020 were part of a long story,” the report finds.  

Virginia GOP picking candidates: Retired Navy Capt. Hung Cao won the Republican nomination this week to challenge Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s 10th District. Cao defeated a better-funded candidate and focused his campaign on education and his experience as a veteran. GOP Rep. Bob Good also defeated a challenger in the 5th District, and Karina Lipsman won the GOP nomination in the 8th District and will challenge Democratic Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. The rest of the state will hold primaries June 21. 

New York fundraiser: House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik will host a fundraiser on June 6 with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Donors can give $1,000 to attend a private reception with Stefanik, or up to $25,000 to attend a roundtable and get a photo with Trump, according to an invitation. 

Words, words words: Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, said in a profile published by the centrist GOP Ripon Society newsletter that the GOP must “forget allegiance to Trump” if it hopes to reclaim its congressional majority. Upton is retiring in 2022. 

Ethics roundup: Newly released reports show the Office of Congressional Ethics has substantial reason to believe Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas used campaign funds to pay for a private club membership and Rep. Alex X. Mooney of West Virginia took a family vacation in Aruba mostly funded by a direct mail company, and had his office staff plan part of the trip, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reports. Both lawmakers have been renominated already this year — Jackson ran uncontested in the March primary, and Mooney beat fellow Republican David B. McKinley earlier this month — are now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which, unlike the OCE, has the power to discipline members.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Trump should stick to House and Senate races, because getting involved in endorsements in governors' races increases the chances the former president will lose, and look weaker, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Streaming ads: Just in time for the midterms, political ads are returning to Spotify, Protocol reports. The streaming audio service says advertisers can direct ads to specific audiences via "contextual targeting." At the moment, the company plans to allow political ads only on podcasts, not on its free music-streaming network.

Far-flung influence: Real Clear Politics looks at the political influence of a Swiss billionaire, Hansjörg Wyss, who has bankrolled progressive advocacy operations.  

AAPI PAC: A group of Asian American Democrats is launching a new PAC called Justice Unites Us, NBC News scoops. “The new super PAC is billed as an unprecedented multi-million-dollar effort to engage the fastest growing ethnic or racial group in America, which turned out in record numbers in 2020,” NBC reports. 

High roller: Cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s millions in spending on Democratic primaries has already drawn attention this cycle, but that’s nothing compared to the money Bankman-Fried, a Democrat, says he is planning to spend in 2024. He told podcaster Jacob Goldstein on Tuesday that he had a “soft ceiling” of $1 billion, depending on what happens in the election. 

Bookmark it: But hopefully you won’t need it. The Congressional Research Service put out a handy analysis of the federal laws regarding election worker safety and privacy.

The count: $1.1 million

That’s how much Independence USA PAC — a super PAC that through April 30 had only $78,000 in cash but previously got more than $672,000 in four checks from billionaire gun control advocate and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — disclosed May 18 it was spending for a TV ad supporting Georgia Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath. McBath, whose son was killed by gun violence, won her primary Tuesday against fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.

Nathan’s notes

The outlook for November has not improved for Democrats. Races in nine House districts now look better for Republicans than they did a few months ago, while only one House race has seen a shift toward Democrats, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Candidate confessions

“You really shouldn’t listen to people who ran for national office and lost,” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, told a group of reporters gaggling with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who was on the 2016 ticket as the Democratic nominee for vice president. “It’s an honor to be nominated to get an Academy Award. It’s not an honor to get nominated to become president or VP,” Romney added. 

Shop talk: Stephen Lawson

Lawson, CEO of Battleground Strategies, served as deputy campaign manager for former GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia in 2020 and currently is spokesman for a SuperPAC supporting this year’s nominee, Herschel Walker, who faces Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Other clients include Mike Collins and Chris West, who are headed to GOP primary runoffs in Georgia’s 10th and 2nd districts, respectively. He also worked on campaigns for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Gov. Rick Scott, who is now a senator. 

Starting out: Lawson is a native of Tallahassee, Fla., where, he said, “the political bug was sort of built into my DNA.” After college, he interned for the state GOP in Tallahassee. “I got connected with a couple of the guys who had done a lot of the oppo research on Gov. Scott’s  first campaign in 2010,” he said. He ended up working for Scott’s reelection bid. “That was what I sunk my teeth into, was that research side of things, what I lean back on, and really what drives a lot of my approach and critical thinking when it comes to politics, campaigns, the comms side: the importance of having as much information, and the best information, as possible.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: In the weeks leading up to election night during DeSantis’ 2018 campaign, he said, the polls showed DeSantis trailing Democrat Andrew Gillum by 5 to 8 points, he said. The margin ended up so narrow that the race went to a legally required recount before Gillum conceded more than a week later. “That was the culmination of such a tough campaign,” he said. “In 2018, Florida was an inflection point, politically, demographically, in terms of voter registration, all those things.”  

Biggest campaign regret: Loeffler’s 2020 special election campaign was initially designed to broaden the Georgia GOP’s appeal to moderate voters, especially suburban women. But she was forced to the right in a primary with then-Rep. Doug Collins. “That certainly was a disappointing circumstance,” Lawson said. “There were so many things that in hindsight we could have had the flexibility and the resources to do if we hadn't gotten stuck in that primary fight.” One example, he said, was the decision to run an ad declaring that Loeffler was “more conservative than Attila the Hun,” which was broadly panned and seen as a turning point in the campaign. “In any other universe, no one would ever run that ad,” Lawson said. “But because we were running so close with Doug Collins, we were forced to do things that we wouldn't have otherwise.” Loeffler won the nomination, but she lost to Warnock in a January 2021 runoff that helped Democrats gain majority control of the Senate.

Unconventional wisdom: “Keep the main thing the main thing,” he said. “In this business, I think we get distracted a lot of times by the glitz and the glam and the tweets and all these things that at the end of the day don't matter.” Instead, he said, campaigns should focus on driving their core message, highlighting their “positives” and doing the “blocking and tackling” work of running a strong campaign.

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

Coming up

Trump rallies in Wyoming on Saturday with Harriet Hageman, the primary challenger to GOP Rep. Liz Cheney. Guest speakers include Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Kat Cammack of Florida and Matt Gaetz of Florida, with a “special video address” from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. 

Photo finish

Rep. Lucy McBath, who beat fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in Tuesday's primary in Georgia's 7th District, dances last October during the Congressional Women's Softball game, which pits women in Congress and the press corps against each other. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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