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At the Races: Virginia is for voters

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Voters are voting one more time before the end of 2022.

The candidates seeking to fill the seat of the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin are waging a dayslong campaign before Republicans are set to pick from at least two candidates on Saturday, with Democrats to follow on Tuesday. In the heavily Democratic district, which McEachin won by 30 points last month, Tuesday’s firehouse primary is essentially the ballgame.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, set the Feb. 21 special election with a filing deadline of Dec. 23, prompting the particularly fast campaign. The parties have district committees that got to decide how the nominees will be chosen.

To vote in the Democrats’ firehouse primary, a nominating contest overseen by the local party organization rather than public officials, voters will need to bring an ID or proof they live in the Richmond-area 4th District and could be asked to sign a statement declaring themself to be a Democrat. 

Democrats appear to have consolidated their support around state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a 17-year legislator who succeeded McEachin in the state Senate after he was elected to Congress. She unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2021, helping to increase her name ID, and is touting endorsements from Sen. Tim Kaine and Reps. Gerald E. Connolly, Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Jennifer Wexton, along with groups like EMILY’S List and the Collective PAC. 

Lamont Bagby, a member of the state House of Delegates, had launched a run but suspended his campaign earlier today and endorsed McClellan. “I made this decision because I believe it’s in the best interests of the voters of this district to step aside and ensure we have the right representation in Congress,” he said. He called McClellan “fit to replace my late mentor, Donald McEachin.”

Bagby’s decision could prevent the party from splitting between himself and McClellan and providing an opening for state Sen. Joe Morrissey, a controversial former lawyer who reportedly criticized the “Democratic elite” this week. Former Delegate Joe Preston and Tavorise Marks are also running. 

Starting gate

Gallego says he will decide after the holidays: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego is not being shy about looking into a challenge of newly independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona, but he says he will not decide until after consulting with family members and constituents during the holidays. Sinema left the Democratic Party last week, though she will continue to get committee assignments through Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Closing the books on ’22: It’s no secret that money isn’t everything when it comes to political campaigns. In this year’s midterms, at least a couple of dozen candidates in competitive races were outspent but still beat their better-funded opponents. And some candidates poured their own money into losing campaigns. We look at all of that in our analysis of the latest campaign finance disclosures.

Hitching a ride: Bipartisan legislation to overhaul the Electoral Count Act, which governs the role Congress has in certifying presidential elections and was misused by then-President Donald Trump’s advisers to fire up supporters who rioted on Jan. 6, 2021, will be part of the omnibus spending package both chambers are expected to take up, CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa reports. 

ICYMI

Republican who Democrats will miss: CQ Roll Call’s Mike Magner speaks with outgoing Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who had this view of what constituents wanted during his 36 years in the House: “People don’t really care if you have an R or a D, they just want the job done.”

The almost-upset of the year: CQ Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis recalls thinking, “Too bad your dad has no chance,” when one of her students in a politics course spoke excitedly about campaigning for his dad in Colorado this year. The candidate was Adam Frisch, who came within 546 votes of winning against Republican Lauren Boebert in November. 

Donations non grata: One incoming House member says he’s purging a past donation from Sam Bankman-Fried, the cryptocurrency executive who was arrested this week on fraud and campaign finance charges. Florida Democratic Rep.-elect Maxwell Frost said he would donate Bankman-Fried’s contribution to the Zebra Coalition, a group that works with homeless LGBTQ+ youth in the state. Federal Election Commission records show a June 10 donation of $2,900 from Bankman-Fried to Frost. Bankman-Fried made more than 130 donations in the 2022 election cycle, including six-figure contributions to Democrats’ House campaign arm, as well as contributions to incoming House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy and more than $35 million to super PACs and outside groups.  

Not great expectations: A small slice of Americans, just 18 percent, said GOP control of the House will change Washington for the better, according to a new Monmouth University poll. And 21 percent expect the House GOP will make things worse. Most, about 51 percent, expect no change either way, the poll found. About 7 in 10 Americans told pollsters that neither political party is paying enough attention to everyday economic issues. Not surprisingly, then, Congress isn’t very popular: 62 percent do not approve of the job the U.S. Congress is doing, while 26 percent approve.

Do as I say: Elon Musk urged his Twitter followers to vote GOP in the midterm elections, but he may not have voted himself. “Based on our records, we do not have any indication that Mr. Musk participated in the November 2022 Election in Cameron County,” the Texas county’s election administrator told The Daily Beast.

Emmer time: Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who ran the NRCC the past two cycles, is bringing along some of the campaign committee’s aides to his new leadership operation. Emmer, the incoming House majority whip, has tapped Robert Boland as chief of staff, Chris Maneval as deputy chief of staff, Justin Shockey as floor assistant and Samantha Bullock as communications director. Additionally, Michael McAdams, who was the NRCC’s communications director in the 2022 cycle, will serve as senior adviser to Emmer’s political team.

Independent streak: Sinema’s surprise announcement to become an independent reflects what has been a largely overlooked political milestone for independents this year, GOP pollster David Winston writes in a Roll Call opinion piece. He notes that the 2022 election marks a historic high point for independents, going from 27 percent in 2020 to 31 percent of the electorate this year, according to preliminary data from the Edison Research national exit poll. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: It’s beginning to look a lot like Donald Trump’s days are dwindling, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Losing ground?: Despite GOP gains with Latino voters in places like Florida, Republicans in the Southwest are in danger of losing such voters in the region, according to NBC News. Meanwhile, the suburbs that moved more toward Democrats in 2018 did not shift back to the GOP in the midterms, The New York Times reports.

Now hiring: Senate Democrats face a tough map in 2024, and HuffPost writes that no one in the caucus is jumping to lead the campaign arm over the next two years. Adding to the difficulty that the next DSCC chair will face is whether to support Sinema if she seeks another term or a Democrat who isn’t an incumbent. 

About those numbers: Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire warns against reading too much into polls showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Trump among Republican primary voters because those are head-to-head matchups and Trump — as he showed in 2016 — does better when there’s a group of opponents. Meanwhile, factcheck.org reports that a Fox News clip showing results from the Georgia election changing was not evidence of fraud but a mistake being fixed.

A ‘loneliness epidemic:’ Sen. Christopher S. Murphy pens a piece in The Bulwark about the rising levels of loneliness sweeping the nation — and why it should matter to policymakers. “Loneliness is driving people to dark, dangerous places,” the Connecticut Democrat writes, citing the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. “[T]hose young, white men carrying tiki torches are only the tip of a giant iceberg of isolated, angry people whose search for meaning might lead them to a seething antisemitic or racist mob.” 

Cool, calm and in control:The Guardian looks at Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the former corporate lawyer who will be the House minority leader when the new Congress convenes in January. The New York Democrat will make history as the first Black leader of either party.

The count: 6,670

That’s how many votes, combined, separated Republican winners from Democratic losers in the five closest House races, in a compilation by Jacob Rubashkin for Inside Elections. The list includes two seats Republicans won by less than 600 votes — Boebert’s and California Rep.-elect John Duarte’s. But they’re landslides compared to the six-vote win secured two years ago by Iowa GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. She won by nearly 21,000 votes this year.

Nathan’s notes

Virginia and Colorado have become more reliable states for Democrats, but a lot of the national map moved in the Republicans’ direction over the past decade, Nathan L. Gonzales writes in a column that looks at changes in the Inside Elections Baseline metric, which measures what share of the vote a “typical” member of each party running statewide should get.

Candidate confessions

Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter, has been using his platform to blast out a series of provocative talking points for those who want to own the libs, leading a number of celebrities and high-profile users to quit the site, including Elton John. On Monday, one of Musk’s tweets about a “woke mind virus” drew a response from Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., who had no problem owning his lib-ness: “I’m going to eat some Kale salad today. And make fun of Marjorie Taylor Greene. And watch the video of lots of woke people booing @elonmusk at Dave Chappelle’s show. And work on some climate change legislation. And listen to Elton John. Because, freedom. And I’m still standing.”

Shop talk: Will Dunham 

Dunham left Capitol Hill, where he was most recently deputy chief of staff for policy to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, this fall to join the government relations team at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. During his more than 13 years on the Hill, he also worked as executive director of the Republican Study Committee when House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana ran it. 

Starting out: “I first got the bug for politics my senior year in college. I took a statesmanship class that focused on Lincoln and Churchill,” Dunham said. “I was an English major and a chemistry minor, so I hadn’t done a lot of political science classes, and I loved it. It was the most interesting topic that I had come across in a long time.” He talked with the professor, Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, who suggested putting off a master’s degree and instead going to Washington, D.C., to work in politics. “I wondered if he was looking at my GPA when he was giving me that advice,” Dunham quipped. After working at a think tank, he got a gig in the office of California GOP Rep. Tom McClintock as a legislative correspondent. “I was literally opening the mail, and I just fell in love with the Hill.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: While working for McCarthy, Dunham helped the Republican broker a legislative effort in 2016 to add a provision to the fiscal 2017 Water Resources Development Act for a big California water deal supported by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (but opposed by other Democrats, including then-Sen. Barbara Boxer and environmental groups). “It was an extraordinary experience, all the back-and-forth and negotiations. It was my first big deal with Leader McCarthy.”

Biggest campaign regret: During his stint with McClintock, who sits on the Budget panel, Dunham said he focused a lot on overhauls of entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security. “It seemed like there was a lot of promise around it, and I was getting to work on it. That was one of the first really big things I was a part of, a small part. … And my biggest regret, over the course of my time on the Hill, we didn’t end up really passing or even getting very far down the road on … a bipartisan deal, to shore up Medicare and Social Security.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “My advice is to not be cynical about Washington, D.C. It’s easy to be cynical about the place and the people,” he said. “But in my experience, the city itself is actually a really extraordinary place. I have found so many people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle from all over the country, from all over the world, who I have developed lasting, lifelong friendships with. I think those friendships are the antidote to the cynicism. So don’t be cynical about the people here, that it’s all self interest and greed and backstabbing. The vast majority of people here are people who love their country and want to do right by it and are civically minded, and making friends with those people will help you avoid despair or cynicism.”

Coming up

Voters in Virginia’s 4th District will pick nominees in the coming week for the Feb. 21 special election to replace McEachin, with Republicans going Saturday and Democrats on Tuesday.

Photo finish

These thumbnails offer a taste of the news and feature Photos of the Year by our own Bill Clark and Tom Williams. The photos also ran in Roll Call on Tuesday and today, the final print issues of 2022.

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