At the Races: Too busy for Biden

Posted July 7, 2022 at 2:30pm

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Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan just doesn’t have time for President Joe Biden, apparently. 

When the president this week swung through Ohio, where the congressman is running for an open Senate seat against Republican J.D. Vance, Ryan had “a busy campaign schedule with prior commitments down the Ohio River today, making stops in Jefferson, Meigs, and Athens Counties,” campaign spokesperson Izzy Levy said in an email. 

Given the president’s sagging approval ratings and historical trends about the party in power getting trounced in midterm elections, it’s easy to surmise that Democrats running in competitive and downright tough races, like Ryan’s, want to keep Biden at a distance. It also came during a week when former President Donald Trump has planned back-to-back campaign appearances, drawing a contrast between Biden’s and Trump’s profiles on the trail. Trump is making stops in Las Vegas on Friday (in an effort to boost Senate GOP candidate Adam Laxalt against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto) and Alaska on Saturday (to help his pick, Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski, a Trump critic).

Yet, exceptions abound: Rep. Cindy Axne, one of her party’s most vulnerable members, embraced the president during a stop in Iowa this spring. During Biden’s jaunt Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is not up this cycle, and Rep. Shontel Brown, who won a primary against progressive Nina Turner, were among those to join the president. Longtime Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who has found herself in a Toss-up race in the 9th District, was also there. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that “we’re in close contact with Congressman Tim Ryan” and reiterated the other lawmakers appearing with the president in Ohio. “I think that counts for something, as well,” she said. Biden, she added, “will go wherever he needs to go to talk directly to the American people ...  and I think it makes a difference for them to hear from their president directly.” 

Republican operatives will find political fodder either way. Expect to see ads with vulnerable congressional Democrats shoulder-to-shoulder with Biden, blaming them for high inflation. And if they don’t show up, like Ryan? Well, after noting Ryan’s history of support for Biden, now “he’s turned tail and hiding from the consequences of his support for the Biden agenda,” Jack Pandol, communications director for the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, said in a news release.

Starting gate

Full agenda: Arizona candidate Blake Masters says if he wins the GOP nomination and beats Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, he’s ready to investigate Anthony Fauci and Mark Zuckerberg, vote against Mitch McConnell and vote to convict Biden in an impeachment trial.

No congressman for you: Nebraska tried to make things simple for voters after Rep. Jeff Fortenberry resigned in March. But using the new district map drawn for the next Congress in the special election held last month means that the winner, Republican Mike Flood, who will be sworn in on Tuesday, won’t be able to actually represent some of the people who voted for him unless he wins again in November, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi reports.

Democracy on the menu: A new effort, dubbed Democracy Dinners, is recruiting volunteers to host dinners to encourage civic participation, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, with a personalized touch. 

ICYMI

Endorsement watch: The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed John Fetterman, the Democrat running for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Iowa Democratic Senate nominee Mike Franken, who is challenging GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley, nabbed the endorsement of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey endorsed Rep. Mondaire Jones in the Democratic primary for New York’s 10th District. Meanwhile, SEIU 1199, a health care workers union, endorsed Councilwoman Carlina Rivera in the 10th District. The Club for Growth endorsed Republican Yesli Vega in Virginia’s 7th District, where she is challenging Rep. Abigail Spanberger. Hillary Clinton endorsed Rep. Haley Stevens in her primary against fellow Rep. Andy Levin in Michigan’s 11th District. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders backed state Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint in the Democratic primary for the state’s at-large House seat.

Internal affairs: Georgia Senate GOP candidate Herschel Walker lied to campaign aides about the existence of some of his children, the Daily Beast reports. Emails and texts show political advisers “discussing how they don’t trust Walker — both to tell the truth to them and to handle campaign events properly — and harboring concerns that he isn’t mentally fit for the job,” the story added. 

Brought to you by — you: TV ads funded by the congressional office of Florida Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick — who is facing a primary challenge from the Broward County commissioner she beat by just five votes in a special primary last year — look similar to her campaign ads, and may fall into a gray area of House ethics, Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reports.

Campaign money: Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock used campaign money to fight a lawsuit over “seemingly baseless” claims related to his work as a church minister, raising questions about whether he violated campaign finance rules, Politico reports.

Vacation costs: Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the state’s Democratic nominee for Senate, took a taxpayer-funded security detail on a family vacation to the Jersey Shore in June 2020, at the same time the state was urging people to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Free Beacon reports

Back to the trail: Fetterman, who has been off the campaign trail recovering from a stroke for nearly two months, is close to getting back to campaigning. “He is about 90% back to full strength and getting better,” campaign spokesman Joe Calvello told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week.

Crossing the line: Former Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Greenwood were among a group of 10 prominent Pennsylvania Republicans endorsing the Democrat running for governor, Josh Shapiro, instead of GOP nominee Doug Mastriano.

Ad watch: Cheri Beasley, the North Carolina Democratic nominee for Senate, released a new television ad running statewide Thursday. “In the Senate, I’ll hold Washington accountable too. Because the special interests have too much power and neither political party is getting it right," she says.

What we’re reading

Down the middle: New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski writes that a New Jersey lawsuit to allow a Moderate Party on the ballot and efforts to allow fusion parties in other states could “restore to Americans in the middle some of the leverage they have lost.”

Working-class heroes?: Democrats’ appeals to white, working-class voters are unlikely to succeed on their own because “the dividing line in the American electorate is not economics; it’s race and culture,” Fivethirtyeight.com writes. 

New normal?: National Public Radio reports on candidates who lost badly in primaries this year but blame fraud instead of conceding, while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looks at a probe to find fraud in 2020 that has come up with little after spending $1 million.

Message to Republicans: Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting chief of staff, argues that Republican voters should pay attention to the Jan. 6 Select Committee hearings, even though they are run by Democrats, because Republicans are the ones providing evidence.

New kids on the ballot: NPR looks at the Gen-Z candidates running for Congress this year, the first time that a generation younger than millennials is eligible to run. 

All the ex-president’s people: Grid News takes a deep dive into the fundraising and connections of the MAGA group Conservative Partnership Institute, a messaging and policy outfit for Trump aides in exile.

Unchecked power: Democracy advocates are raising alarms after the Supreme Court said it would take a case in its next term testing a conservative legal theory giving state legislatures virtually unchecked power over federal elections, “warning that it could erode basic tenets of American democracy,” according to The Washington Post.

The count: 54%

That’s the percentage of Americans who said the middle class has not benefited at all from Biden’s policies, up from 36 percent a year ago, according to a Monmouth University poll of 978 adults taken June 23 to 27 and released Tuesday.

Candidate confessions

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters answered an audience question at a Wednesday night town hall meeting in Williams, Ariz., about his support for term limits by conceding that he is going to be “on guard” against being corrupted by the excesses of Washington if elected.

“I know it could happen to me, and that terrifies me. So I'll be on guard against it. I'm also blessed to have made my money already, and I've worked for people a lot richer than myself, so I actually don't want to double or triple my net worth, so I think I'm insulated against the money thing,” Masters said. “Money corrupts a lot of people in D.C. I married my middle-school sweetheart; we started dating in high school. So I'm happy with my woman, you know, a lot of guys get corrupted by women.”

Shop talk: Sam Cooper

Cooper is a vice president at the Republican consulting firm Axiom Strategies, where he is working on House and Senate campaigns in Missouri and Texas. He was a regional political director for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign and served as the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. 

Starting out: “I actually went to college to play basketball,” Cooper said. “I had this revelation during my sophomore year that I probably wasn't making it to the NBA. So figured I needed to find something to do.” Cooper was a political science major, and his adviser suggested he contact Axiom founder Jeff Roe about an internship. Cooper thought he would eventually be a lawyer, but he decided to give it a try. Roe asked him during his sophomore year to manage a campaign for ​​Jay Jordan, an attorney who was running for an open seat in South Carolina’s 7th District. Cooper moved to the district and slept on a vinyl floor of what had been a laundry room in a house that he shared with three other guys. He jokes that it was the first of three times that Roe convinced him to drop out of school to run a campaign. He later left law school to work for Cruz and again to run the 2018 Montana Senate campaign for GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale, who was the state auditor at the time. That was the “last straw” for his legal career, he said. “There are not very many industries in the world where you know for a fact whether you won or lost,” he said. “Also, I love your ability to rise quickly in campaigns. If you're good, if you work hard, there's not that sort of barrier. You can basically rise as quickly and as swiftly as your talent allows.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Cooper oversaw the Wisconsin operation for the Cruz campaign, when the Republican primary had narrowed to a contest between Cruz and Trump. “We felt like we were running for mayor of Wisconsin,” he said. “We had a bus, and we went to every corner of the state. We touched, it felt like, every voter. TV work, mail work. We were knocking on doors and making phone calls.” The primary night party was held at the American Serb Memorial Hall in Milwaukee, a landmark event space that closed in 2021. Cooper was there preparing for the event when Cruz and some members of the team pulled up in the bus. “I remember walking on the bus and seeing all the networks calling for us,” he said. “There’s not a better feeling in all of politics, to see a race get called for your candidate.”

Biggest campaign regret: Rosendale’s loss to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester was a lesson in the power of a political brand that Tester demonstrated, Cooper said. “The guy has built an incredible brand in the state as a good ol’ boy dirt farmer. And we allowed him to define himself and run with that brand. And in a decent year for Republicans, we just couldn’t catch him.” Cooper said the turning point came after the primary, when Rosendale’s resources were depleted. “Tester was up on TV on full blast the next day, and we just didn’t have the resources to go up. And so you just see, you're getting bombarded on TV for like four or five weeks without any response. You kind of talk yourself into, ‘We're gonna close this thing out. We're gonna get there.’ But when the narrative has already been set, it's really hard to push back on.”

Unconventional wisdom: “The best campaigns are ones that actually reflect the candidate and the personality,” Cooper said. “Too often, operatives try to do a campaign in a box: ‘This is how we have to do grassroots. This is how we have to knock doors. This is how we have to do fundraising calls.’ I don't think that’s how the best campaigns work. Every candidate is different. Every district is different. Every state is different. So you really have to tool campaigns to fit where you're running and who you're working for. It takes more time. And it's harder to do on the operative side, because it's easier to just sort of roll in and lay out like, here's how we have to do everything. But if you truly reflect the candidate, and what their strengths are, your campaign is going to be more successful.”

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

Coming up

The deadline for filing to run as an independent candidate in Illinois is Monday, and former Rep. Dan Lipinski, who lost a primary in 2020 to progressive Rep. Marie Newman, confirmed in a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed that he is weighing such a run in the 6th District. Newman lost a June 28 primary to fellow Rep. Sean Casten for the Democratic nomination for the seat. Whatever he decides, Lipinski, one of the last anti-abortion rights members of his party on Capitol Hill, made clear that he’s frustrated with both major parties: “Any member who displays independent thought is usually coerced into following the party line or they lose their next primary.” 

Photo finish

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., hands a campaign button to a supporter as he marches in the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July Parade in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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