At the Races: Roe-d awakening

Posted June 30, 2022 at 2:30pm

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In a little less than a week, the Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States has brought the country’s battle over reproductive rights to a fever pitch. But it still isn’t clear how much of an impact it will have on the midterm elections. 

Democrats think it helps, pointing to consistent polling — including a post-ruling Monmouth University poll that came out this week — that finds the majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. In one sign that the conservative court’s move in the opposite direction could galvanize Democratic engagement, the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue collected more contributions on the day after the ruling — $20 million —  than it had on any single day since 2020, The New York Times found.

But it’s hard to find an example, so far, of a House race in which Democratic messaging on abortion has helped an incumbent working against a barrage of attacks on gas prices and inflation. 

In the Senate, where Democratic incumbents hold almost all of the most competitive seats this cycle, there is a clearer argument that Democrats could gain ground if public outrage over the ruling drives voters in November. 

That’s especially true in states like New Hampshire and Nevada, where abortion is legal at the state level but Republican Senate candidates would likely support increased federal restrictions. It could also make it harder for Republicans to expand their offensive map to Colorado, which this spring became one of the few states to pass a law protecting abortion access. Joe O’Dea, the winner of this week’s GOP Senate primary, is one of the few Republican candidates in a competitive race this cycle who has expressed some support for abortion rights, but he’s already been forced to spend a lot of time deflecting questions about his opposition to late-term abortions, when he has made it clear he would rather be talking about the economy. 

This week’s primaries also continued to deliver mixed results on the GOP’s willingness to nominate candidates who support former President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims, an issue Democrats have hoped would become more salient in light of the explosive testimony coming out the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. 

Mississippi GOP Rep. Michael Guest’s runoff win offered further support that Republicans can survive attacks on their votes for the bipartisan commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol (which we know was not the same thing as the select committee, but their opponents haven’t always made clear). California Rep. David Valadao, meanwhile, became the first of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment to officially win a primary when his race was called this week. 

But Republicans also nominated candidates who ran on election denial platforms, a sign that many in the party still strongly believe the 2020 election was stolen.

Starting gate

Election results roundup: Primaries on Tuesday settled intraparty battles in Colorado, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma and Utah and filled a vacant seat in Nebraska. Take a look at our results roundup, which includes open seat contests and more. 

Sting of defeat: This week’s primaries put an end to two Illinois members’ House careers, with GOP Rep. Rodney Davis’ loss to Rep. Mary Miller in the 15th District and Democratic Rep. Marie Newman’s defeat by Rep. Sean Casten in the state’s 6th District. We looked at the pivotal few votes that divided each pair of incumbents ahead of their races.  

Give it time: Elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales says it may be too early to assess the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and a key test of what it will mean in the midterms will be whether it affects President Joe Biden’s standing in the polls. 

New guy: The newest congressman from Nebraska is a lawyer who worked as a radio host, CQ Roll Call’s Nick Eskow writes. State Sen. Mike Flood was already running against Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in the GOP primary when Fortenberry resigned in March after being convicted of lying to authorities about contributions to an earlier campaign. Flood won the special election Tuesday, the same day Fortenberry learned, as CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reported, that his sentence will not involve going to prison.

New ’Dea: Abortion was one of several touchstone issues on which O’Dea took positions more in line with Colorado’s independent voters than his primary opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks, who was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. That’s why Democrats tried to support Hanks in the primary. It didn’t work, and now national Republicans have the nominee they think is a “credible challenger” to Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, Nathan L. Gonzales writes in an analysis explaining why Inside Elections changed the rating of the November race from Solid Democratic to Likely Democratic. 

Gas prices: As people prepare to travel for the long July 4th weekend, the progressive group House Majority Forward launched $1.7 million in TV ads across nine House districts urging the Senate to take up a House-passed bill meant to combat gas price gouging.

ICYMI

Red to Blue additions: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added two candidates to its Red to Blue program for candidates who meet certain benchmarks in races considered key to Democrats keeping their House majority: Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, who is running in New York’s 18th District, and small business owner Michelle Vallejo, who is running in Texas’ 15h District. Ryan is also running in an August special election for the current 19th District vacancy created when Antonio Delgado became lieutenant governor. 

Ron Wrong on Roe?: The Democratic super PAC Progress Action Fund released an ad attacking Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron  Johnson as “wrong for women,” for his votes against extending the Violence Against Women Act and the bipartisan gun safety bill that intended to close the “boyfriend loophole,” as well as for his support for overturning Roe v. Wade. The ad was part of a six-figure buy that will run on streaming services and connected TVs.

Akin for trouble:  Yesli Vega, the Virginia Republican running against Rep. Abigail Spanberger, suggested that women who are raped may have a more difficult time becoming pregnant and said she’d only worked on one case as a police officer when a woman got pregnant because of a rape, according to audio obtained by Axios

Endorsement watch: The Progressive Change Campaign Committee endorsed state Sen. Becca Balint in the Democratic primary for Vermont’s at-large House seat. The conservative group ​​FreedomWorks for America endorsed Chris West in Georgia’s 2nd District. 

Poll that’s either peachy or the pits: Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock led Republican nominee Herschel Walker 54 percent to 44 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Walker led among men, 52-45 percent, but Warnock led among women, 61-37 percent. The candidates’ favorable-unfavorable ratings track the horse race numbers: Warnock’s in positive territory, 49-37 percent; Walker’s upside-down at 37-42 percent. 

Campaign against canceled flights: Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic nominee for Senate, called for the Department of Transportation to fine airlines $27,500 per passenger for each canceled flight the airlines knew they would not have the staff to fly. “Government has a responsibility to hold these airlines accountable. Tax payers saved them, and now it’s their turn to hold up their end of the deal,” Fetterman said in a statement. 

Making the cut: Voters in California went to the polls June 7, but it took another 2 1/2 weeks to determine that GOP Rep. David Valadao had advanced to the general election, where he’ll face state lawmaker Rudy Salas, a Democrat. The Associated Press declared Friday that Valadao came in second in an all-party primary. Salas came in first and had already been declared the top finisher. Inside Elections rates the race a Toss-up. 

Abortion ad: New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan released a new ad Thursday focused on last week’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. “This decision catapults us backwards, and there are politicians like [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell, who’ve made it clear that their objective is to ban abortion nationwide,” the Democrat says in a direct-to-camera ad running statewide.

Fundraising appeal: Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, his party’s Senate nominee, has closed out Thursday’s fundraising quarter with appeals invoking the abortion ruling. “My opponent JD Vance called overturning Roe a ‘victory’ and said pregnancy from rape is merely ‘inconvenient,’” Ryan said in one fundraising email. “It’s disgusting — and I’m disgusted, angry, and scared for my kids. It’s clear we can’t just protect our majority — we have to expand it. Our open Senate seat here in Ohio represents one of the best chances Democrats have to expand our Democratic Senate majority.” He urged would-be donors to split a $10 donation between his campaign and the Democratic National Committee. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: Stu Rothenberg looks at the “handful of voters” in a few states who may determine which party wins the midterm elections.   

Who’s the RINO?: Former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith, a Democrat, wrote in The Kansas City Star about watching his lifelong acquaintance Eric Greitens’ short transformation from progressive Obama fan who considered running as a Democrat for the House in 2010 “to mainstream Republican to ultra-MAGA warrior'' as Missouri shifted to the right. Greitens recently released an ad in his GOP Senate campaign showing him pumping a shotgun as he declared he was going “RINO hunting.” “The question many ask: If he is indeed elected, which Eric Greitens will show up in the U.S. Senate?” Smith writes, “For those of us who have observed him across four decades, the answer is clear: whichever one will best serve his ambition.”

Party switching: The AP reports that more than 1 million voters have switched their registration to the Republican Party over the past year and that many of those voters reside in the suburbs that swung to Democrats during the Trump presidency. 

Big money, big worries: GOP megadonors’ support for Trump’s possible 2024 presidential run is dwindling because of the revelations in Jan. 6 committee testimony, according to a CNBC report.  

The count: 8

That’s how many House members running for reelection — three Democrats and five Republicans — have lost primaries already this year. That’s the same number as for all of 2020, and, at a minimum, it’s going to increase by two more when pairs of Democrats face each other in Michigan and New York primaries in August. The trend line is up from four incumbent losses in 2018 and 2016, and three in 2014, according to CQ’s biennial Guide to Congress. But there’s normally a bump in years after redistricting that lead to member-vs.-member primaries: CQ Almanac says 13 incumbents lost in primaries in 2012, nine in 2002, and 19 in 1992.

Nathan’s notes

Like an investment prospectus, politics should come with a disclaimer that past performance is no guarantee of future success. Nathan L. Gonzales proved the adage by looking at how former members trying for comebacks in primaries this year have come up short, some by a lot.

Candidate confessions

Freshman Rep. Newman, who lost to fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Casten, said in her concession speech Tuesday night that she had called Casten to congratulate him and urged her supporters to get behind him in the general election, though at times she appeared to choke back tears. “And I know that’s gonna hurt a little bit for some folks, but I really need you to do it because the Democratic Party really needs you,” she said. “And we all need to be together. We need to be united.” Inside Elections rates the race against Republican Keith Pekau as Likely Democratic for November.

Shop talk: Kristen Bennett

Bennett is the House press secretary at America Rising, a Republican opposition research PAC. 

Starting out: “I started out interning for my state senator’s reelection campaign back home in Virginia right out of college,” Bennett said. She met her mentor, who set her up on about a dozen coffee dates with friends and former colleagues in D.C., which led her to a full-time job at the Republican National Committee. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “Working the 2020 presidential through the RNC. I think it was just a really interesting experience having to switch from doing an all in-person campaign, all hands on deck, to doing it during the pandemic and having to go virtual overnight,” she said. “Considering it was my first real job post-college, it was an eye-opening experience to get to be there in person, to all of a sudden, you’re at home and trying to figure things out. I think we did a really great job of doing that as a team.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I feel like everyone has probably had this experience at some point, but I was at a VP rally in Flagstaff, Ariz., and I hadn’t checked the weather because I was coming from Phoenix, and it ended up being like 30 degrees for the rally and all I had was a dress, heels and a pullover with me. So one of my coworkers went and bought hand warmers to keep us warm because I was so unprepared for the weather.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “Don't get sucked into thinking Twitter is real life. Constituents probably couldn’t care less about what goes on on Twitter, but they definitely care about what’s affecting them every day. My goal is probably to always connect with a friend from home just to see what’s on their mind, because there’s probably a super good chance that whatever they care about is not trending on Twitter at the moment.”

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

Coming up

The primaries are taking a bit of a respite, as politicians dig in for a long July 4th weekend with the usual parades on tap.

Photo finish

Holding up their trophy after the Republican team won the 2016 Congressional Baseball Game were then-Rep. Mark Walker, left, who finished third in an attempted comeback in the North Carolina Senate primary on May 17, and Rep. Rodney Davis, who lost his primary bid for another term in Illinois on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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