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At the Races: Cash course

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At their most basic level, campaign finance reports are a simple tabulation of money raised and spent. But the numbers can also say much more.

Here are a few takeaways reflected in the latest year-end Federal Election Commission filings of incumbent senators up for reelection in 2024.

Retirement watch? Much has been made about 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s meager fundraising haul — the California Democrat raised $559 in the final quarter of 2022 and had just $9,969 in her campaign account on Dec. 31. Some of her colleagues anonymously have raised questions about her cognitive decline, and she has not said whether she will seek another term. Feinstein isn’t the only senator with lagging fundraising during the quarter. Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland raised $29,191 in the last three months of 2022, though he had $1 million on hand. Cardin, 79, also has not disclosed his reelection plans. And Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, brought in $56,245 in the quarter and had $313,051 in the bank. A Maine newspaper reported last year that King, 78, is preparing to run.

Vulnerable, but fundraising powerhouses: Two of the most politically endangered senators — Arizona independent Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III — have massive war chests. Sinema had $8.2 million in her campaign account and Manchin $9.5 million. Neither senator has said whether they plan to run for reelection. Sinema already faces a challenge from Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego (who said he brought in $1 million the day after he announced his run on Jan. 23, but that would not show up in FEC filings until April 15).  

On track?: Other Democrats facing competitive races to watch have seven figures in the bank but will surely need more. Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and Virginia’s Tim Kaine both finished the year with less than they had at the start of the fourth quarter, though Casey had $3.1 million and Kaine $3.8 million. Democratic senators who fattened their campaign accounts were Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, who had $3 million on Dec. 31; Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, who had $3.4 million; and Montana’s Jon Tester, who had $2.9 million.  

Finishing 2022 on a strong note: Running for Senate is a marathon, not a sprint, but some incumbents had strong final fundraising quarters. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, another vulnerable Democrat, brought in $1.5 million in the last three months of 2022. Rosen has signaled that she will run for reelection, although she has not formally announced. Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas also finished the year strong: Scott, the former chair of Senate Republicans’ campaign operation, brought in $3.4 million, and Cruz raised $1.2 million during the reporting period.

Starting gate

Redistricting battles: Redistricting is often described as a “once a decade” process, but, in reality, redrawing political boundaries often leads to ongoing litigation. A new survey by the Democracy Docket, a progressive voting rights site founded by Democratic elections lawyer Marc Elias, counted 46 lawsuits filed in 22 states seeking to overturn congressional maps crafted in 2021 and 2022. Some 32 of those lawsuits remain active, as of the end of last year, and they have the potential to shape the 2024 battle for control of the House.

Swing seat at the table: Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger joined the Democratic leadership table this year as the new battleground leadership representative, which, she told CQ Roll Call’s Ellyn Ferguson, will be a chance to bring topics to the leadership table that are “things that we’re hearing on the ground in swing districts are not necessarily making it there.” 

Guns, money and lobbying: The biggest groups lobbying on federal gun policy, including the National Rifle Association and Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, spent less money to lobby the federal government in 2022 than in the previous year, even as Congress moved legislation.  

Ethics dilemmas: Speaker Kevin McCarthy named a slate of Republican members to the chamber’s Ethics Committee, including New York Rep. Andrew Garbarino, whose Long Island district abuts that of embattled Rep. George Santos.

ICYMI

Not running: Michigan Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens said she won’t run for Senate next year, when retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow‘s seat will be up.

Endorsement watch: Former President Donald Trump and Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and John Barrasso of Wyoming endorsed Republican Rep. Jim Banks in the Indiana Senate race. Former Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick endorsed Gallego for Senate in Arizona. 

Schiff support: Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would support Rep. Adam B. Schiff in California’s Senate race if Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t seek reelection. Schiff also announced endorsements from fellow California Reps. Julia Brownley, Jim Costa, Anna Eshoo, Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Mike Levin, Ted Lieu, Grace Napolitano, Jimmy Panetta, Scott Peters, Brad Sherman, Eric Swalwell, Mike Thompson and Juan C. Vargas, as well as from a slew of former House members from the state. 

Thinking about it: Even as two House Democrats (Katie Porter and Schiff) have already jumped into California’s 2024 Senate primary, Rep. Ro Khanna said he’s waiting on what fellow Rep. Barbara Lee decides. “If she doesn’t run, I would say that the probability of running is much, much higher,” Khanna told Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks. “And if she does run, it’s lower. But obviously that’s not the only factor, but it is something that I will weigh seriously.”

Campaign finance: Republican Lynda Bennett, who lost a 2020 primary to former North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, agreed to enter a plea in federal court on a charge accusing her of accepting a campaign donation from a relative exceeding the $2,800 limit in another person’s name, according to documents. 

Staffing up: The DCCC announced a slate of new staffers and promotions for the 2024 cycle, including Catherine Wall — an alum of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire — as chief of staff. She was deputy chief of staff last cycle. Michelle Tovar, whose résumé includes a stint with EMILY’s List, is the national finance director, while Elizabeth Ericson, who was campaigns targeting director in 2022, will be chief analytics officer this cycle. Missayr Boker, who previously ran the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm, will be deputy executive director for campaigns, and Tasha Cole, who started in 2020 as the committee’s first chief diversity officer, is becoming deputy executive director for stakeholder engagement. Erik Ruselowski will stay on as chief operating officer, and Jackie Forte-Mackay will continue as chief financial officer. “A strong, talented, and diverse team will be critical in our fight to flip the House in 2024 — and today’s additions will help fulfill our mission,” said DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene in a statement. 

What we’re reading

Michigan GOP: Michigan Republicans face a reset after losses in 2022, and the primary for an open Senate seat next year is likely to highlight the same divisions in the party that were evident in GOP primaries last year. NBC News reports that former Rep. Mike Rogers is considering running for that seat, or for president. 

A whodunit in the heartland: Cybercriminals allegedly made off with $700,000 from Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran’s campaign. The case “exposes a constellation of vulnerabilities in modern day political campaigns, where millions often move through small, shoe-string operations with little to no security measures in place to protect themselves against online fraud,’’ according to The Kansas City Star.

Real estate politics: Four of the 14 members of Georgia’s House delegation do not live in the districts they represent, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Rep. Lucy McBath, who switched districts and beat fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux in last year’s primaries, plans to keep a promise to move. But Republican Reps. Andrew Clyde and Rich McCormick said they had no plans to move, and Democratic Rep. David Scott’s office wouldn’t discuss it.

‘Dumbfounded’: A relative of George Santos who is a disclosed donor to the embattled New Yorker’s 2022 campaign tells Mother Jones that listed contributions were “news to me,” and added: “I’m dumbfounded.” 

The count: $6,600

That’s the new maximum amount that an individual donor may contribute to a federal candidate in the 2024 cycle after the FEC today updated limits for inflation, as Kate first shared early this morning. Donors may now give $3,300 per candidate per election (so $6,600 for the primary and the general combined). It’s a nearly 14 percent increase from the previous cycle’s maximum of $2,900 per candidate per election (or $5,800 total) and was expected with the recent high rate of inflation. The FEC shared more on other updated limits here. PACs, including those of companies and lobbying associations, are not indexed for inflation, and such donations remain capped at $5,000 per election.  

Nathan’s notes

Using Inside Elections’ Baseline data, Nathan L. Gonzales tracks how some states have changed since senators up in 2024 last faced voters in 2018. For five of them, the political climate for their parties has gotten worse, while four others are looking at friendlier terrain. He also applied the Vote Above Replacement statistic to the incumbents, which looks at whether candidates over- or underperformed a generic candidate from their party.

Candidate confessions

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks is now the clear front-runner in the state’s 2024 Senate race after former Gov. Mitch Daniels said this week he wouldn’t run in the Republican primary, prompting NRSC Chair Steve Daines to offer support for Banks’ candidacy. “I’m not naive to believe that the field will be cleared, but we’re doing everything we can to run a strong campaign and show strength,” Banks told reporters on Capitol Hill this week, while praising Daniels. 

“I have a lot of respect for him. I served in the state House for six years, the first two of which he was still the governor, so I learned a lot from him,” he said. “No doubt that he has a role to play as a senior statesman in this era. He’s someone that I hope to be able to reach out to and ask for advice from time to time. He shares the same concern that I do about the national debt and America’s fiscal health.”

Shop talk: Jason Thielman

A longtime top aide to Montana Sen. Steve Daines, Thielman serves as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Daines leads this cycle. 

Starting out: Thielman got his start “painting and silk screening 4-by-8 red highway signs for my former high school government teacher when he ran for secretary of State,” he recalled, referring to Republican Bob Brown, who won that race. “I was covered in red paint, and it took months to get the last remnants out from underneath my fingernails. I loved every minute of it. When the sun went down, I’d turn on my car’s headlights and keep going until the last sign was painted. It might have been the paint fumes, but I’ve been hooked on campaigns ever since.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “In 2020, when Chuck Schumer strong-armed Gov. Bullock into challenging Sen. Daines, my family hitched a U-Haul to our minivan and drove back home to Montana,” he recalled. That race between the state’s then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and Daines attracted big attention and outside money. “When we arrived in Bozeman, it was all hands on deck. My kids ran around the campaign office, helping send text messages and encouraging the volunteer staff. We also knocked on countless doors asking people to vote for Steve Daines. After the polls closed, my staff and I gathered around the computers watching the votes come in.” Daines looked over his shoulder as the first ballots came in, “and I turned around with a huge grin. We knew immediately that we had won.”

Biggest campaign regret: “My first big race was working for my former high school teacher who was running for governor,” he said of Brown. “I had helped to elect him as secretary of State and convinced him he should run for governor. It was a job that he didn’t want, and I pushed him to try and be someone he wasn’t. You can’t put fire in a candidate’s belly. You need to build a campaign around who they are, not what you want them to be.”

Unconventional wisdom: “All trends come to an end,” Thielman said. Quoting a famous Mark Twain phrase, he added that history “‘never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.’ Election cycles are often similar, but they are never the same. Successful campaigns are the ones who adapt to the changing contours of the electorate.”

Coming up

FEC disclosures are due Feb. 9 for candidates in Virginia’s Feb. 21 special election in the 4th District to succeed the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin

Photo finish

At a Jan. 18, 2017, confirmation hearing for her appointment to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was flanked by the state’s two Republican senators, Tim Scott, left, and Lindsey Graham. Haley will announce a run for president later this month, while Graham is backing former President Donald Trump and Scott’s own plans are TBA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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