At the Races: A first in the Last Frontier

Posted August 18, 2022 at 2:30pm

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Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney’s loss has been the big story this week, and more high-profile primaries are on tap for Tuesday. But Alaska’s first test of ranked choice voting in its still-undecided special House race may ultimately be more consequential as an incubator of future election and democracy changes. Advocates, and skeptics, of ranked voting are closely watching the outcome in the Last Frontier, where former GOP Gov. Sarah Palin, a onetime darling of the tea party movement endorsed by former President Donald Trump, is among the contenders for the seat of the late Rep. Don Young. We won’t know the results until Aug. 31, an Alaska elections official told At the Races, because the state allows 15 days for military and other mail-in ballots to arrive. 

In the state’s all-party Senate primary, moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, easily advanced to the general election in November, along with Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka. Two other candidates will also advance. Primary voters in Alaska pick only one candidate, and the top four advance to the general. Voters in November may rank them in their preferred order. 

The experiment in Alaska — as in Maine, which also uses ranked voting — may serve as a model for how these voting overhauls work. It’s given Democrat Mary Peltola a shot at winning the House special in solid GOP Alaska. Ranked voting could help Murkowski, as it aims to boost candidates who have broad crossover appeal. But it may be hard to determine how much to attribute her success at the polls to her own brand — she won as an independent in 2010 after losing the GOP primary — rather than the state’s new system. 

“My sense is it’s really too early to tell,” said Chris Warshaw, a professor at George Washington University. Ranked voting “has some promise, but it makes voting more complicated. Any reform that makes it harder to vote, even one that’s well intentioned, makes me nervous.” 

Deb Otis, director of research for FairVote, which advocates for ranked voting, said voter participation in Alaska’s special and its pick-one primaries were comparable, and she said she expects to see a high number of people who ranked their ballots. “It’s really exciting,” she said.

Starting gate

Taking Oklahoma by the Horn: We dropped in on former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn in Oklahoma City, where she says opposition to GOP abortion bans could help her win a Senate seat in a deeply conservative state — and hold a key to how Democrats nationwide can expand their appeal to voters they have too often overlooked. 

Vote track: Longtime New York Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney and Jerrold Nadler are facing off Tuesday in the Democratic primary for New York’s 12th District. The two have similar voting records over nearly 30 years in Congress, but we looked at a handful of key votes on which they split.  

Indiana special: The death of Rep. Jackie Walorski earlier this month has set off a rushed contest for the Indiana Republican's House seat. Walorski’s husband, Dean Swihart, announced Monday that he would support Rudolph Yakym, a former finance director for Walorski’s congressional campaigns. 

Aloha State: Former Hawaii state Sen. Jill Tokuda is likely to be the state’s next House member after she won the Democratic primary for the 2nd District last weekend. Tokuda’s main rival was state Rep. Patrick Branco, who benefited from outside groups spending $1.2 million to support his campaign and oppose Tokuda.

Insulin messaging: Democrats hit the airwaves to highlight their work to lower the cost of insulin. Senate Majority PAC launched a $1.9 million ad buy noting Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s support for legislation to cap patients’ insulin costs at $35 a month, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a separate five-figure digital ad campaign targeting Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

ICYMI

Planned electioneering: Abortion-rights group Planned Parenthood said this week that it would inject $50 million into this year’s elections, its biggest investment in an election cycle on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The group will focus on races in Georgia, Nevada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin. Local Planned Parenthood affiliates will also mobilize in Colorado, California, Maine, Ohio and Florida. The program will include TV and digital ads, phone banking and canvassing.

Endorsed: Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer is backing fellow New Yorker Nadler over Maloney in the Democratic primary for the 12th District. Gun-control group Giffords PAC recently endorsed a slate of Democrats: Jasmine Crockett in Texas’ 30th, Valerie Foushee in North Carolina’s 4th, Robert Garcia in California 42, Sydney Kamlager in California 37,  Seth Magaziner in Rhode Island’s 2nd, Morgan McGarvey in Kentucky 3, Delia Ramirez in Illinois’ 3rd, Andrea Salinas in Oregon’s 6th and Hillary Scholten in Michigan’s 3rd. The New Democrat Coalition Action Fund endorsed Adam Gray in California’s 13th. Challengers endorsed by End Citizens United/Let America Vote were Asif Mahmood in California’s 40th, Will Rollins in California’s 41st, Eric Lynn in Florida’s 13th, Eric Sorenson in Illinois’ 17th and Scholten. And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee endorsed Eddie Geller in Florida’s 15th.

Abortion on the ballot: Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet released an ad saying the overturning of Roe v. Wade makes his Senate race “even more important.” The ad highlighted his Republican opponent Joe O’Dea’s previous statements that he opposed the state’s law that enshrines a right to abortion and that he would have voted to confirm all of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, who, Bennet’s ad points out, voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. O’Dea, one of the only Republicans on the ballot in a competitive race who supports limited abortion rights, countered by introducing a landing page on his campaign website clarifying his position and a digital ad that features his daughter. 

Oz on Israel: At a campaign stop Wednesday night, Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, was focused on foreign policy, joining David Friedman, who served as Trump's ambassador to Israel, for a moderated discussion on U.S.-Israel relations and the Middle East. "And I'm proud as a secular Muslim to stand tall and say together with many others who are Christian and Jewish — and many other Muslims as well — to say that Israel is a force for good," Oz said at a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Philadelphia, reports CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski.

Race to the right: Republicans running in New Hampshire’s Senate primary questioned the 2020 election results and criticized the FBI, and two said they would support repealing the 17th Amendment, which made senators elected by voters instead of legislatures, during a debate hosted by the conservative group Government Integrity Project. 

New York special: Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, the Democrat running in a special election Tuesday for New York’s 19th District, trailed Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, by 3 points in a DCCC Analytics poll conducted earlier this month, suggesting a statistical tie in the race. Ryan and Molinaro are also seeking their party’s nomination in separate, newly drawn districts on Tuesday. 

Closing arguments: Nuestro PAC is spending half a million dollars on independent expenditures to support New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera in the crowded 10th District Democratic primary. “When our community needed help, Carlina built affordable housing and took on deadbeat landlords. When extremists threatened our rights, Carlina championed the nation’s first municipal abortion fund,” the television ad says. 

Debate prep: Iowa Senate Democratic nominee Mike Franken says he’ll debate GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley on Oct. 4 and Oct. 6. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican. 

Poll watchers: The North Carolina State Elections Board approved temporary rules for party-appointed poll watchers ahead of the November elections that would prohibit them from standing close enough to polling equipment to see how a person voted. 

Indicted: Former California Democratic Rep. T.J. Cox, who lost his seat to Republican David Valadao in 2020, was indicted on fraud charges, some involving campaign donations. The FBI arrested him Tuesday, The New York Times reported, and the National Republican Congressional Committee quickly tried to spin the news to attack Valadao’s Democratic opponent, whom Cox had endorsed.

TikTok retort: As lawmakers and regulators grapple with TikTok and amid reports of election-related misinformation, the Chinese-owned social media app issued a recent statement saying it takes its “responsibility to protect the integrity of our platform — particularly around elections — with the utmost seriousness.”  The company said it would disclose more about its policies, especially around election messages.  

And Twitter, too: Twitter issued a lengthy statement ahead of the midterm elections and said it was activating enforcement of its Civic Integrity Policy, which aims to counter misinformation about candidates and voting procedures. Twitter also said it is working to protect user accounts, especially those of candidates, government officials and journalists. 

What we’re reading

Trump won here by 59 points: The county judge in Gillespie County, Texas, says he’ll ask the state for help on how to run elections after death threats and headaches from complying with new state laws led everyone in the election department to resign, the Fredericksburg Standard reports.

Abortion on the airwaves:  Democrats are “using abortion as a powerful cudgel in their 2022 television campaigns,” according to a New York Times analysis. “Rarely has an issue been handed on a silver platter to Democrats that is so clear-cut,” Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said. 

Money woes: Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the North Carolina Republican who lost his renomination bid earlier this year, has disclosed in recent reports a dire campaign finance situation in which the congressman has lost big amounts of his own money, the Daily Beast reports

Cheney’s choice: Tom DeFrank, who has covered former Vice President Dick Cheney for decades, writes in National Journal about daughter Liz Cheney’s primary defeat. “Republicans cannot both be loyal to Donald Trump and loyal to the Constitution. We must choose,” Liz Cheney said in the piece.

The count: $1 million-plus

That’s how much Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman’s campaign said he has raised since the start Monday of the sudden viral spread of an April video showing Oz bemoaning the high cost of crudité. Along with pairing asparagus and salsa, the Twitterverse panned Oz for mispronouncing the supermarket in which he was shopping by calling it “Wegners.” Many thought he meant Wegmans, but The Washington Post reports he was actually in Redner’s, a Pennsylvania-based chain. Included in Fetterman’s total haul was more than $65,000 raised from an email solicitation promising “Wegners: Let them eat crudite” stickers in exchange for any donation. 

Nathan's notes

Nathan L. Gonzales takes on the narrative that partisan gerrymandering has reduced the number of competitive races and finds that, looking at almost three decades worth of data, “there are actually more competitive races at this point in the cycle than average.” 

Candidate confessions

Retiring Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger isn’t on the ballot this year, but in an appearance on MSNBC this week he outlined some of the work he plans to do after leaving Congress, including through his organization, Country First. “I love calling out the garbage that is being done to abuse people, the abusive emails that say ‘seven times match’ or ‘Just give me $10,’ or ‘Donald Trump knows you haven’t given us more.’ It’s all lies. And it’s abusing people, many of which are seniors and on a fixed income. So I’m excited to be able to go out and continue to fight that battle because somebody’s got to. People are being just abused, and obviously the Republicans have become a cult, so I’m going to try to pull people from that cult if I can.”

Shop talk: Steve Schale

Schale worked as the Florida campaign director and as a senior adviser for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and served as the CEO of Unite the Country, a super PAC supporting Joe Biden. He also ran the Florida Democratic Party’s House Democratic Caucus.

Starting out: ​​Schale first became engaged in politics protesting South African apartheid while he was in high school, but he thought he would end up running the marina his family owned in St. Augustine, Fla., he said. “I got home from college, and a buddy of mine decided to run for the Florida legislature and knew that I would be spending my summer pumping gas on the docks,” he said. “And he called and said, ‘Hey, I've got a better idea. Why don’t you come run my campaign?’ And we won the race. We represented one of, if not the most, Republican districts held by a Democrat in the legislature. We won a race that we were really not supposed to win. And that was 1996, and I just never really looked back.” The friend, he said, was Doug Wiles, who served in the state legislature from 1996 to 2004, including two years as Democratic leader. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “The day before the election in 2008, Barack Obama did three stops: Jacksonville and then Charlottesville, N.C., and then sort of outside of D.C.,” he said. “As you may remember, Obama's grandmother passed away the morning of the last day of the campaign. We were in Jacksonville. I remember standing in the hallway and seeing him on the phone and you could just, I mean, every one of us who has ever got that phone call, you know, you just, you can see it on his face. He went on stage and gave a completely understandably terrible speech. I mean, just off his game. For completely acceptable reasons. So while he was giving the speech we got our final early voting numbers back. We had turned out at that point like 80 percent of our vote goal, and our advantage over the Republicans was larger than John Kerry lost Florida by. So even if we had a John Kerry historically bad Election Day we would still win. And I told, I think it was Josh Earnest, but it might have been Robert Gibbs [both members of Obama’s communications team]. Whoever it was, was like, ‘Hey man, why don't you tell the boss that. We kind of need to cheer him up.’ And so we walked into this little locker room. There’s a picture of it. It’s been documented. It was me and Obama and I think it was Gibbs, [strategist David] Axelrod, and there was, I think, the embedded journalist for the day that was there. I just gave him my Blackberry, and there's a picture of him looking at my Blackberry with the numbers on it. He looked at me and he was like, ‘I don't really know what this means.’ And I was like, ‘Well, it means we're going to win. We're gonna win Florida.' I think Axelrod or somebody said something like, ‘You know what, if we win Florida, we're in really good shape.’  And he kind of thought about it a little bit, and then he walked out and told me not to screw it up. And I couldn't breathe for like six hours. But to be in that moment, having the opportunity to tell him that he was probably going to be the next president was obviously one of the cooler moments in my career.”

Biggest campaign regret: Schale was a senior adviser to then-Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink when she ran for governor against current GOP Sen. Rick Scott in 2010. “It was just a dog fight of a race,” Schale said. “Scott was spending a ton of money. Obama was, you know — as much as I love the man — he was not helpful in Florida at the time. She had run some ads early in the campaign where she had defined how she was a different sort of Democrat. When we were in that space, we were doing very well in the polls. You could see in our internals, and you could see it publicly. And we got a lot of anger and pressure from Democrats to not do that. In the end, I felt we should have closed the race going back to that sort of: Here's how I'm different from other Democrats. Because I felt like, if the race came down to a choice between an Obama Democrat and Scott, we're going to lose, even with all Scott's issues. And I lost that fight. We lost by a point. And I've always wondered, in retrospect, had we just taken the incoming [criticism] from Democratic activists and just leaned in on that, if we would have won.”

Unconventional wisdom: “I may be one of the three people left in the country who still thinks that swing voters and the median voter theory is a thing. I think that politics is, in the end, for all the partisanship and all the noise and all that, voters still vote for people who they can relate to. Voters still vote for people who share their vision. One of my frustrations is, I think there's been a lot of revisionist history around how Obama won. People forget he ran on cutting taxes. In my state, we sent mail on the Second Amendment. In addition to being one of the most inspirational candidates ever, he was also one of the smartest at understanding how to talk to swing voters and moderates. I worry in my party that we're losing the ability to do that. If we're not able to expand where we win races outside of places that we win in presidential election cycles, we're never going to have majorities in Congress, and never going to have majorities in the Senate.”

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

Coming up

Primaries for more than 12 percent of all the seats in the House — also known as Florida and New York — are Tuesday, along with runoffs in Oklahoma.

Photo finish

Former Vice President Dick Cheney watches his daughter, Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, take the oath of office on the House floor on Jan. 3, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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