At the Races: Surf’s down?

Posted August 11, 2022 at 2:30pm

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Top Biden administration officials plan to spend the August recess traveling the country to drive home the message that Democrats in Washington “beat the special interests and delivered what was best for the American people,” while working against Republicans “pushing an extreme MAGA agenda that costs families,” a senior White House official says. 

“This year, families are going to be able to take advantage of the new rebates and tax credits for … high-efficiency heating and cooling appliances, for home energy systems and for electric vehicles,” the official said. “And then at the start of next year, the prescription drug rebates and even more of the clean energy credits kick in.”

The House’s expected passage of the budget, tax and climate package on Friday will cap a productive couple of weeks for Democrats in Washington, with a series of legislative successes coinciding with news that consumer prices on average stopped going up in July and the party’s nominee in a Minnesota special election coming within 4 points in a district then-President Donald Trump won by 11 points in 2020. The White House also announced Thursday that gas prices had fallen below $4 a gallon, representing what it said was the steepest price decline in over a decade. 

The spate of positive news for Democrats — coming after last week’s vote in Kansas that indicated that Republicans could face some backlash at the polls for efforts to limit abortion access — threw cold water on GOP predictions of a red wave election in November. “There's still time for things to snap back before November, but we're no longer living in a political environment as pro-GOP as November 2021,” House analyst Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report with Amy E. Walter said in a tweet

All of that had to compete, however, with the news that the FBI’s seizure of documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate had rallied GOP supporters behind the former president, who still exercises an outsize, if unpredictable, influence on American elections.  

Republicans, meanwhile, have stuck to their message that Democrats have engaged in reckless spending in Washington that would increase inflation and raise taxes on the middle class. 

One missive from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC tied to House Republican leadership, attacked a provision of the bill that would provide tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles as a handout “to wealthy elites for luxury cars no one else can afford.” And the National Republican Congressional Committee kept things simpler, with an email to reporters pointing out that “inflation is still HIGH.”

Starting gate

Not wasting time: Candidates and political committees didn’t wait for the House to vote Friday on the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax bill. From the moment the Senate passed it over the weekend, and even before that, both parties were touting or decrying its provisions.

Dwindling in numbers: Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January 2021, has lost her bid for renomination, making her the seventh of the 10 to either lose in a primary or to not seek reelection. Her fellow impeachment GOPer Dan Newhouse of Washington, however, pulled out a primary victory, one of only two among the 10 so far. 

Inflation adjustments: High inflation isn’t just a political messaging point to some candidates running for office. Like voters, they say the cost of gasoline, travel, staff pay, printed materials and food for events can factor into how they campaign in the midterm elections. This winter’s inflation rate also will determine donation limits in the 2024 cycle. 

Minnesota nice: Brad Finstad, a farmer and former state legislator who served in the Trump administration’s Department of Agriculture, will be sworn in Friday as the newest House member after winning a special election to complete the term of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn in Minnesota’s 1st District. CQ Roll Call’s Jackie Wang profiles Finstad, who credited his family for motivating his political career. 

Late to the party: Along with the anticlimactic finish to Wisconsin’s Democratic Senate primary, Tuesday’s elections saw Vermont Democrats take a step toward possibly ending the state’s distinction as the only one in the union that’s never sent a woman to Congress.

ICYMI

Endorsed: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Marc Molinaro in the special election in New York’s 19th District, where Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado resigned to become lieutenant governor.

Nonpartisan appeal? Colorado Senate GOP nominee Joe O’Dea is out with an ad aimed at appealing to independent voters, billing himself as “not a politician” and saying he’s not focused on political parties.

Meet the new boss: Democratic operative Doug Thornell is poised to become the next CEO of SKDK, according to The New York Times. The firm recently served as strategist and ad-maker for the campaigns of Democratic primary winners Glenn Ivey, in Maryland’s 4th District, and Maryland gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore. 

Trump-Van Drew ’24?: Trump said at a Bedminster, N.J., fundraiser for Democrat-turned-Republican New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew that it would be a “really good idea” to run in 2024 with Van Drew as his running mate. 

Closing message: With her primary against Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman less than a week away, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney released a video her campaign called her closing message, addressing candidates like her opponent who claim the 2020 election was stolen. “If we do not condemn these lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections,” she says. “America will never be the same.”

Wolverine wrangling: Michigan’s attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, is asking for a special prosecutor to investigate Matthew DePerno, her potential Republican opponent in November, as potentially "one of the prime instigators" of an effort to access voting machines illegally after the 2020 election.

Super spending: A super PAC incorporated last month that has not yet disclosed its donors reported spending nearly $94,000 on direct mail opposing New York state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who is challenging Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney in the 17th District. 

Vote by mail: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the DCCC filed to intervene in a Pennsylvania lawsuit brought by a group of Republican lawmakers targeting Act 77, which allows for mail-in voting, according to a release. This follows a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week upholding mail-in voting in the Keystone State in a separate lawsuit.

What we’re reading

Stu says: There’s no denying Kansas has a long record of sending Republicans to Washington, but analysis of the surprising defeat of an anti-abortion-rights constitutional amendment last week should note that Kansas has more than one kind of Republican, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

States at risk? Bloomberg takes a deep dive into which states may be vulnerable to election interference in 2024.

Well-oiled machine?: Democrats’ efforts to curb methane emissions in the reconciliation package have put their Texas House members — especially vulnerable South Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez — in a difficult position as they attempt to balance their party’s commitment to reducing dependence on fossil fuels with their state’s dependence on the oil and gas industry, The Texas Tribune reports.

Call to action: The heads of Latino Victory and AAPI Victory, left-leaning groups devoted to increasing Asian American Pacific Islander and Latino representation, write in Newsweek that Democrats still aren’t doing enough to engage voters of color before the midterms. 

Good friends to have: Forbes looks at Diane Hendricks and Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, billionaires who are backing Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s reelection. 

The count: 1

That’s how many contested primaries there were for Connecticut’s five House seats on Tuesday. Other than the race between two Republicans running for the nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th District (Jayme Stevenson won with 60 percent of the vote, with an estimated 87 percent counted as of this morning), every other incumbent and challenger was unchallenged. Connecticut has a cumbersome petitioning process to get on the ballot, but candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the votes at a party nominating convention can bypass it. 

Nathan's notes

Nathan L. Gonzales has been out chasing candidates in the Pacific time zone, but to hold you until he's back, here’s a look at what he said six years ago this week about Republicans who weren’t going to support the presidential candidate their party just nominated.

Candidate confessions

California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who represents the Silicon Valley-based 17th District, isn’t afraid to appear on the conservative cable channel Fox News. “I’m coming at it as a person of patriotism and coming at it with good intentions,” he told our colleague Chris Cioffi. “A lot of people in my district watch Fox News, so I try to reach them. I’m not sure people hear my position and then say, ‘Oh, OK, now I agree with Ro’s vote,’ but I do think it can decrease the vitriol. It can make people not fear the caricature. They may say, ‘I don’t agree with him, I may never vote for him, but I understand where he’s coming from.’”

Shop talk: Kevin Holst

Holst is a senior campaign adviser to New Politics, an organization that seeks to recruit and elect candidates with service backgrounds, including military veterans and AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni. 

Starting out: Holst got his start in politics with an internship with the Massachusetts Democratic Party, but before that he worked as a college student for luxury retailers. “I figured if I can sell handbags and dresses, I can likely sell ideas and candidates,” he said. “I had a fundraising internship with the party, and my theory was correct, and I was a pretty good fundraiser. And then from my internship I was hired by the party to be a finance assistant, and the rest was history.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Holst worked during the 2018 cycle as the national finance director for Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton’s Serve America PAC. At one event with several female candidates who went on to win that year, including Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, Mikie Sherrill, Elissa Slotkin, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria, Holst told the candidates to keep their remarks brief so that they didn’t collectively speak for 45 minutes. One of the hosts quickly told them to ignore what Holst had said, and he braced for a lengthy event. “I will never forget just how electric and dynamic it was and how enthralled this group of, like, 200 people who were meeting these candidates for the first time,” he said. “I just remember thinking, like, ‘Wow, we really have something special here.’ And I’ve never had an event where people still speak [about] it to this day.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “I didn’t do enough in 2016. I didn’t work for the presidential. I was actually working on the international team for GQR, which, domestically, they do polling, and during the 2016 election cycle, which I thought was pretty cool, we were working on campaigns abroad,” he said. “I thought to myself, you only do this if you’re [former senior adviser to President Barack Obama] David Plouffe. You peak in domestic politics and then you go work abroad. Here I was being 25 and working on campaigns abroad.” While friends were working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, “I was working in the Bahamas and watching the world fall before my eyes with Donald Trump's election, and that’s what reinvigorated me to get back into domestic politics.”

Unconventional wisdom: “People need to get off of Twitter, and they also need to leave D.C. more. The conversations that you are having with your friends in your group chat are not the conversations that the average voter is having across the country,” he said. “We need to speak to voters about what they care about. And people in D.C. need to recognize that we are not the broader representative of the electorate. When Democrats refuse to go on Fox News, which you know is not friendly to us but that is the most watched cable station in America, and one where even a good amount of Democrats get their news, we need to not have these purity tests that we want to have in D.C., because the average American doesn’t have that.”

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

Coming up

More elections! We’ll be watching for results of primaries in Hawaii on Saturday (well, more likely Sunday, our time), and the much-anticipated races in Wyoming and Alaska on Tuesday (but more likely Wednesday or, given Alaska’s system, next Thursday or Friday).

Photo finish

Ever notice you never see Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy and Bruce Wayne together at the same time? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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