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At the Races: Disarray OK?

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.

Editor’s note: At the Races will not publish next week. We will be back in the new year on Jan. 5.

Infighting among Democrats has been a fixation in Washington for years

But these days, it’s the Republicans in disarray. From leadership battles to tactical and philosophical disputes, the GOP is riven with conflict.

The drama in the House, where some Republicans are working to thwart Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s quest to become speaker and others were sporting buttons reading “OK” for “Only Kevin,” has dominated the headlines for weeks. On Wednesday, Rep. Andy Biggs, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus who is also seeking the speaker’s gavel, sent out a fundraising email denouncing McCarthy as a “RINO establishment hack.”

There have been intercameral rifts as well. Disagreements between McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell aren’t new. In recent years, they have split on bipartisan gun control legislation and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, for example. 

But their policy disputes have taken on new significance with McCarthy’s rise. Eager to win over conservative members of the House conference, McCarthy criticized McConnell last week for working with Democrats on the nearly $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package. The two men also broke on aid to Ukraine, with McCarthy repeatedly saying that he would not support a “blank check” to help Kyiv fight Russian forces. (Asked this week if he was supporting McCarthy for speaker, McConnell said he was “absolutely … pulling for Kevin.”)

Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, is leading a campaign to punish senators who support the spending plan. Thirty-one members and soon-to-be-members of the House signed a letter, spearheaded by Roy, pledging to “oppose and whip opposition to any legislative priority of those senators who vote for its passage — including the Republican leader,” although several of the letter’s signers won’t actually be in Congress next year.

The divisions within the GOP reflect a party undergoing a profound shift. Republicans once stood largely united against Russian aggression. Now, “Ronald Reagan is rolling over in his grave knowing there are Republicans who think America shouldn’t stand up to Russia,” said Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas, on Wednesday, just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress (and dozens of GOP House members stayed away).

A break with foreign policy hawks isn’t the only hallmark of the new GOP. The party was once closely aligned with the business community, but, as Kate points out, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is finding itself increasingly at odds with Republicans in Congress. 

“The rift comes as Republicans, starting with the tea party movement more than a decade ago and then under former President Donald Trump, have taken a more populist, less corporate-friendly tack, appealing to working-class voters oftentimes at the expense of policy positions preferred by old-school, country club GOPers,” she writes. 

Starting gate

DelBene for DCCC: Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene will lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2024 cycle after she was confirmed unanimously Thursday by the Democratic caucus. Incoming Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries pointed to her former Frontliner status and political chops in announcing the pick, which came after a rule change giving him more power in the choice co-sponsored by DelBene. 

Business and politics: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once considered especially cozy with Republicans on Capitol Hill, faces friction with the incoming House GOP majority after political rifts and policy squabbles.

Parting gifts: The 2023 omnibus spending package includes 7,234 earmarked line items worth $15.3 billion, including more than $2.4 billion sponsored by House and Senate members who won’t be part of the 118th Congress because they’re retiring, lost elections, died or quit earlier this year, CQ Roll Call budget editor Pete Cohn and politics editor Herb Jackson report.

VA special set: Democrats in Virginia’s left-leaning 4th District picked state Sen. Jennifer McClellan as their nominee for a special election set for February to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin. McClellan won with 85 percent of the vote after a weeklong primary in which the Democratic establishment rallied behind her campaign. 

ICYMI

Cryptocash: CQ Roll Call’s Caitlin Reilly breaks down how indicted FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and others associated with his companies spent or donated at least $44.2 million to help Democratic candidates and affiliated PACs and at least $23.7 million to help Republican candidates and committees in the 2022 cycle.

Peering into the future?: Republican Doug Mastriano, who lost the Pennsylvania governor’s race to Democrat Josh Shapiro, shared the results of a poll Tuesday on Twitter that shows him leading Democratic Sen. Bob Casey by more than 4 percentage points. The problem? The purported poll of 7,881 likely voters was conducted from Dec. 27 to 31, seven to 11 days after Mastriano touted the results.

Election aid: Common Cause celebrated that $75 million was set aside in the omnibus to address obstacles to voting and threats to election officials. But the money “is only a fraction of the investment that will be required to protect our elections and the will of voters from threats both foreign and domestic,” the group said.

Hawley’s rules: Sen. Josh Hawley has a message for young people: Aspire to be more than “a consumer who sits in a cubicle in front of a computer all day,” the Missouri Republican told Tucker Carlson. “And for young men, aspire to be something more than a consumer of pornography. Aspire to actually create something in your life. … Get married, have a family … be a responsible member of society.”

More questions about George Santos: After a litany of questions about the biography of Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y., NY1 reports the state attorney general is investigating, and Santos says on Twitter he’ll answer questions next week. Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reports that the openly gay Santos was apparently married to a woman until 12 days before he first ran for the House (in the 2020 cycle). That goes along with doubts about his employment history, educational background, religion, among other concerns. Union County, N.J., records show someone believed to be the same woman he was married to listing herself as married on the deed for a property in Elizabeth, N.J., purchased this year.

Guilty plea: Matthew Nelson Tunstall of Los Angeles faces up to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty this week to a scam PAC scheme to solicit millions of dollars in contributions in 2016 and 2017 to Liberty Action Group PAC and Progressive Priorities PAC “based on false and misleading representations that the funds would be used to support presidential candidates during and after the 2016 election cycle,” according to a news release from the Justice Department.

In debt: Democrat Stacey Abrams raised more than $100 million for her gubernatorial campaign, but the campaign owes more than $1 million to vendors, according to an Axios report

Bad debt?: Before he lost the Republican nomination for another term in May, North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn was fighting a lawsuit trying to keep him off the ballot, and The News & Observer reports the law firm that represented him is suing to get paid.

Primary calendar: New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley wrote in a letter to DNC Chairman Jamie Harrison that the party’s proposed requirement for the state to change its law to allow a presidential primary after South Carolina is a “poison pill,” and he warned that the change could push independents toward Republicans. “With these declarations, there is nothing that the New Hampshire Democratic Party can do to comply with the DNC’s demands,” Buckley wrote. 

What we’re reading

Residency required: Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican who has expressed concerns about election fraud, is now facing questions about his own voting history. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found three instances when Ferguson voted in Troup County, even though he sold his house and moved in with his wife two counties away.

Gen Z votes: Karoline Leavitt, who lost a race for a New Hampshire House seat, writes in a Fox News op-ed that Republicans must do more to court young voters. “By 2024, Gen Z and Millennials will make up nearly half of the electorate, replacing Baby Boomers once and for all. The future of the GOP — and the future of America — literally lies in the hands of these young, woke, ideologues,” Leavitt wrote.

Wisconsin realignment: The Badger State is undergoing a sharp shift in its voting patterns, according to a detailed explainer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Democrats saw their support collapse in the rural communities in the western and northern reaches of Wisconsin in 2016. But “the unchecked Republican decline in suburban southern Wisconsin is the most arresting feature of the 2022 map,” writes Craig Gilbert, a retired political reporter who is now a fellow at Marquette University Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education. 

Arizona openings: Key consultants have decided not to work for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema after she announced she is becoming a political independent. She also is going to lose access to the Democratic voter database at the end of January, according to HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard.

Donation dilemma: As candidates and campaign groups are weighing what to do with donations from Bankman-Fried, Jeffries said Wednesday at a news conference that the DCCC has “appropriate mechanisms in place” for vetting donations but that “unexpected developments,” as was the case this month, can take place. The DCCC has put his donations in escrow and is awaiting further instructions, he said. 

From moderate to MAGA: The Washington Post charts Rep. Elise Stefanik’s political transformation from a middle-of-the-road Republican who was friends with Rep. Liz Cheney to one of Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters.

The count: 35 percent

That’s how many adults nationally said “woke” was the word or phrase “you find most annoying in conversation,” according to a Marist Poll of 1,312 adults surveyed Dec. 6-8. Other options on the survey’s list were “whatever,” which got 22 percent; “it is what it is,” 15 percent; “like,” 12 percent; “you know,” 9 percent; and “just kidding,” 7 percent. “Trump” and “coronavirus” shared the title for “most annoying word” in 2021, when the question was open-ended.

Nathan’s notes

Speaking of polls, Nathan L. Gonzales points out that Democrats either got bad news or good news in the midterms, depending on which exit poll data you use, about where their candidates stand with younger voters.

Candidate confessions

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said recently that he would shift strategy at the campaign arm and may no longer shy away from primary battles. “If I have heard one thing since the last election, a little over a month ago, Republicans are sick of losing, and we’re gonna do whatever it takes to win,” he told Fox News. “We want to make sure we have candidates that can win general elections. … There’s too much at stake in the ’24 election.” He noted that Supreme Court and other judicial nominations, as well as tax, spending and immigration policy, hang in the balance. “We’re gonna do whatever it takes to make sure we have a Republican majority.”

Shop talk: CJ Warnke

Warnke is the communications director for House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with House Democratic leadership. 

Starting out: Warnke grew up in New Jersey close to New York City, where he got his start in politics. His first political experience was as a communications intern for Christine Quinn’s 2013 mayoral campaign. “I was up at 5 a.m. every day doing clips and blasting them out to the campaign by like 6 a.m. every day and, you know, it was a very grueling job, I would say, for a young 20-year-old CJ, but at the same time I immediately could not get enough of it.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “The biggest one has got to be winning the day after Election Day in 2020 when I was on Sen. Gary Peters’ re-elect in Michigan,” he said. “It was a grueling campaign against the Republicans’ like no. 1 Senate recruit in the country, John James.” Warnke said the campaign had always expected a close race and that they didn’t take the lead until the afternoon following Election Day after a complicated campaign that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It just felt so fulfilling for us to win that one, especially because we just had an amazing team over there of co-workers, of people I worked for, and we’re all still like, pretty relatively close to this day.”

Biggest campaign regret: “I think too often people on campaigns decide to sell their entire personal life in order to pursue their professional life, and I think looking back on my 20s, I definitely regret missing things, whether it be friends’ weddings, birthday parties or somebody’s funeral in some cases,” he said. “I think there’s been a culture of people being like, you have to work, work, work, work, work, work, work, like all the time and do nothing else for yourself and just like, you can find a balance working on campaigns professionally and, you know, like actually having a personal life. I think Democratic campaigns are getting better with that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I just wish I had prioritized more personal life stuff in the early years.”

Unconventional wisdom: “This is my comms advice. This may come across as controversial in some circles, but I am firmly against screaming at reporters,” he said. “I know there is a large contingent of comms folks on the Democratic and Republican side who live and breathe by screaming at reporters to get their point across, and I’ve just never found it to be a useful tool in any way, shape or form. … People resort to screaming at reporters when they run out of an argument to make and it’s their last-ditch effort to try to intimidate somebody, and I’ve never found it to be helpful and I don’t think it’s a good way to operate, especially when you are representing a candidate or an organization. That rubs off on everybody, and it’s just never a good look.”

Coming up

Since there’s no newsletter next week, here’s our reminder that the 118th Congress will be sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 3. And how long ago it seems that the 117th Congress was sworn in! A recap of the events of Jan. 3, 2021, by the Congressional Research Service noted that the nomination of Kevin McCarthy to be minority leader was made by the conference chairwoman at that time: Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
To keep track of everything after Jan. 3, we’ve also got you covered with our combined House/Senate session calendar.

Photo finish

Twas the morning of Christmas, when all through the House
The GOP caucus was stirring, because many had doubts.
McCarthy’s stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that 218 votes soon would be there.

— CQ Roll Call’s Chris Hale’s reaction to RJ Matson’s cartoon

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