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At the Races: Last in the nation

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

The primary results this week in New Hampshire, where Republican voters picked far-right candidates over those favored by establishment officials and PACs, follows a trend seen in the party across the country this year. Even without endorsements from him in the Granite State, voters still opted for candidates whose style reflected former President Donald Trump’s. 

That trend was underscored this week as we revisited our list of the most vulnerable incumbents in the House, which had several open spots after the primaries. Incumbents who lost their seats included Republicans Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Tom Rice of South Carolina and Peter Meijer of Michigan, all of whom voted to impeach Trump.

That opened spots on the list for Democrats facing top GOP recruits, such as Virginia Rep. Elaine Luria. The new list also includes some of the House’s more moderate Republicans — like California Rep. David Valadao — running in districts that voted for Biden, where Democrats think voters’ concerns about abortion rights and right-wing extremism could improve their chances of keeping control of the House.

Still, Republicans appear to be unifying ahead of November. In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu embraced Don Bolduc, the new GOP Senate nominee, whom he previously called a “conspiracy-theory extremist.” The National Republican Congressional Committee included John Gibbs, who defeated Meijer in Michigan’s 3rd District, in its latest round of “Young Guns,” which we have more on below. 

With primary season officially over (never mind Louisiana, which holds its primary on Election Day in November), candidates are in full general election mode, with the House canceling votes on Friday to give members an extra day back in their districts. 

And both parties are focused on issues they expect will be most beneficial to them this year. A Republican National Committee memo released this week says voters are focused primarily on the economy and crime, not abortion, as they prepare to vote this fall, while a Center for American Progress Action Fund memo says MAGA candidates will cause problems for Republicans.

Starting gate

Listed: Control of the Senate in 2023 remains a toss-up race itself, as the chamber’s 10 most vulnerable members seek to fend off challengers in the midterm elections. Despite the many twists and turns over the past four months since our last update to the list, we made few changes. By contrast, we have a dramatically revised House most vulnerable list, after many incumbents lost primary challenges and the general election comes into focus. 

New England wraps up primaries: New Hampshire voters picked MAGA-esque candidates in all three congressional races. Bolduc will face Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, while Karoline Leavitt and Robert Burns will face Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann McLane Kuster, respectively. In Rhode Island, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a Democrat, will face former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, for an open seat in the 2nd District. 

Four-letter words: Often asked about where he’s looking for surprises or sleeper races, CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales writes that it’s worth keeping an eye on Senate races in Utah and Iowa.

White House celebrations: The South Lawn at the White House was filled with Democratic lawmakers and outside advocates (plus James Taylor) on Tuesday to celebrate enactment of the health, environment and tax reconciliation law that Democrats are hoping will reduce costs for Americans and curb inflation. The event, however, was overshadowed by further negative inflation news as well as the unveiling of a GOP bill that would ban many abortions after 15 weeks nationwide.

Bee repeat not to be: A day after the GOP picked his challenger in New Hampshire’s 1st District primary, Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas was not able to extend his reign as champion of the National Press Club’s Press vs. Politicians Spelling Bee. The Washington Post’s Amy Wang took the title for the press team.


Overhaul stall: Bipartisan efforts to overhaul the law governing the counting of presidential electors may have the votes to advance in the Senate, but action remains uncertain, CQ Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi writes in an update highlighting the introduction of a companion House measure.

New Young Guns: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced House Republicans’ sixth round of candidates in the Young Guns program, which provides extra fundraising and messaging help. The 13 candidates include Erik Aadland in Colorado’s 7th District, Kelly Cooper in Arizona’s 4th, Matt Larkin in Washington’s 8th and Yesli Vega in Virginia’s 7th, among others on the full list of Young Guns

For the record: A Missouri judge found “no pattern of domestic violence” by former Gov. Eric Greitens in a child custody dispute that helped to derail Greitens’ GOP Senate bid. An attorney for Sheila Greitens, the former governor’s ex-wife, stated that she never alleged a “pattern” but stood by her testimony detailing specific instances of abuse. Eric Greitens nevertheless claimed vindication. “Twice now in two days, the court has ruled that people lied about me,” he wrote on Twitter, also referring to a Missouri Supreme Court reprimand of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for misconduct during her prosecution of Greitens for invasion of privacy in 2018.

GOP attacks: The McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund unveiled a series of ads in seven competitive House districts Thursday, attacking Democratic candidates as elitist “Washington insiders” who are in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “pocket” and voted for a “new tax hike on the middle class” when they passed Democrats’ climate change, health care and tax law. 

Abortion on the ballot: Michigan Democrats hope a ballot initiative that would add a right to abortion to the state constitution will turn out Democratic voters and independents who could help their candidates in close races. Michigan is one of a handful of states in which voters will have a ballot initiative related to abortion this year.

#OR04: Alek Skarlatos, a Republican former National Guardsman running in Oregon’s 4th District against Democrat Val Hoyle, liked photos of “girls in bikinis on Instagram and joked about strangling women on a podcast shortly before beginning his political career four years ago,” according to a local news report. Skarlatos, who rose to fame after helping to thwart an attack on a French train, apologized in a statement shared by his campaign: “Looking back at the comments I made as a 24-year-old who just left the Army, I’m disappointed. I apologize if I offended anyone.”

Cyber campaign cash: The Federal Election Commission said Thursday that candidates, following an inquiry from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, may use a “reasonable” portion of their campaign money to protect home networks from cyber attacks. It follows previous FEC guidance allowing campaigns to spend money on physical home security given that their political jobs may heighten their risks. Campaign finance law generally bars candidates from using their political money for personal expenditures.

Minus one, again: Alaskans devised their state’s new ranked choice voting system to include the final four top finishers in the general election, which voters may then rank in order of preference. In both the recent special House election and the House race in November, candidates who finished in the top four dropped out after securing spots on the ballot. Now, a final four finisher in the Senate race, Republican Buzz Kelley, said he’s suspending his campaign and offered his endorsement of fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka, the Trump-backed challenger in the uphill race to unseat GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski.   

If you build it: The campaign of Democrat Mike Franken, the admiral who is challenging GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley in Iowa, released a poll this week showing Franken within 4 points of the incumbent, with 8 percent of voters undecided. Meanwhile, Grassley, who is seeking an eighth term and will turn 89 in two days, is out with a new ad that includes video of him driving a tractor, doing pushups and running. That spot touts the fact that, if reelected, he’d have the most seniority in the Senate. 

Changing positions: New Hampshire candidate Bolduc, who stood by false claims that Trump won the 2020 election as recently as last month, said Thursday on Fox News: “Unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country.” He said there was fraud in the election but that it was not stolen.

What we’re reading

Middle ground: Neither party’s base is big enough to win an election, so it’s about the political center of the country — those people who are not affiliated with either party, namely independents, who will be key in the midterms, writes GOP pollster and Roll Call columnist David Winston. 

PAC money problems? Federal investigators probing efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election have reportedly set their sights on a new target: Donald Trump’s Save America PAC, Grid News reports

He’s running: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swooped into New Hampshire to shake hands and pose for pictures “with the crowd for an hour, then grabbed a stool at the bar at American Legion Post 27 and joined everyone for a beer,” writes The Examiner’s David Drucker on the Republican’s early presidential campaign moves.

The count: 35%

That’s the percentage of Latino voters who say they favor Republican candidates in this year’s midterms, according to a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and BSP Research tracking survey from Sept. 2-11. That’s a significant uptick from the most recent midterms. “Latino voters continue to favor Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 52–35 percent, but Republicans have gained ground with Latino voters since the previous midterms,” a NALEO release said. “At this same point in 2018, only 22 percent of Latino voters planned to vote for Republicans for Congress.”

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales and CQ Roll Call editor-in-chief Jason Dick chatted about the state of the midterm races on the Political Theater podcast.

Candidate confessions

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker agreed to an Oct. 14 debate at Walker’s preferred venue — a Savannah event at which candidates typically are supplied the topics in advance. While Warnock balked at the terms — he had proposed a series of showdowns that would presumably give candidates fewer opportunities to rehearse — the Savannah event still gives him a chance to showcase his grasp of the issues and the oratorical skills he has honed as a preacher. But the gaffe-prone Walker, who recently retooled his campaign, remained squarely on-message in a video he posted on Twitter Wednesday. “He has agreed to debate me,” Walker said from the leather-upholstered passenger seat of an SUV. He then read through the date and time of the event and provided a teaser that would make any GOP campaign manager proud. “Now you get a chance to tell us,” he said, with a deliberate pause. “Why you voted with Joe Biden [pause] 96 percent of the time [pause]. And God bless.”

Shop talk: Ben Voelkel

Voelkel, who ran for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin before dropping out ahead of the primary this year, serves as a senior adviser to the reelection campaign of Sen. Ron Johnson. Voelkel previously worked for the Wisconsin Republican on Capitol Hill and is a veteran of numerous races, including the 2014 campaign of Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy and the 2012 Senate campaign of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Starting out: “I was working at an insurance company in Madison, and the guy I sat next to was the son-in-law of Gov. Thompson, who was going to be running for U.S. Senate,” Voelkel recalled. “I knew Tommy a little bit and thought it would be a good opportunity to try something different. So I jumped at the opportunity.” Thompson lost the race to Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, but Voelkel was hooked. “I drove him around the state for about 10 months, seeing and doing everything a statewide campaign is about. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from him, to be on the road and to really be thrown into the deep end of politics.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Voelkel has two, a good one and a bad one. The bad one occurred during Thompson’s 2012 run, when he and the former governor visited a Sikh temple in Milwaukee at the same time a different Sikh temple nearby came under attack from a gunman who killed six people. “A lot of people there had family members, loved ones or friends who were at the other temple. It was really jarring,” Voelkel said.  His good moment came when Johnson won reelection in 2016, a victory “that not a lot of people expected.” “It was thrilling,” he added, “when we saw those numbers coming and that little checkmark show up on the screen.” 

Biggest campaign regret: “The biggest one is not doing better in my own race,” he said. “Beyond that, I always had an interest in working on a presidential campaign, and, for a variety of reasons, it never came to fruition.” 

Unconventional wisdom: When working in politics, he said, “There will be three or four days throughout the last two or three months of the campaign, where you think it’s impossible that you’ll lose. And there is going to be three or four days, where you’re not catching a break and it’s not going your way, and you think there’s no possible way we could win this. Neither one is usually true. Being able to keep a steady temperament is one of the keys to success. Keep your eyes on the prize and the bigger picture and know what you have to do in that moment to make sure you come out on the right side.”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns whom we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at

Coming up

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden head to London for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday. It may be on TV.

Photo finish

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