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At the Races: Sunshine State sunset debate

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.

President Joe Biden’s visit to Florida today as part of his post-State of the Union travel comes as he is seemingly gearing up for a 2024 reelection bid. In his speech Tuesday, he repeatedly made calls to “finish the job” and sparred with Republicans over funding for Medicare and Social Security.

Biden didn’t specifically name Florida Sen. Rick Scott — or any Republican — in the speech, but he did Wednesday, during a trip to Wisconsin, and Scott has been defending a proposal he made last year that Congress reauthorize or sunset all legislation every five years. Biden notes that that means entitlements could be shut down if there’s a standoff.  Scott stood by that proposal and said Biden actually made a similar proposal when he was a senator from Delaware. Scott’s Senate campaign is running an ad in Florida accusing Biden of “improperly [using] a loophole to dodge half a million dollars in taxes” and saying that he should resign. 

Scott is up for reelection next year in a state that has become more solidly Republican in recent years. Fellow GOP Sen. Marco Rubio won last year by 16 points, while Gov. Ron DeSantis won by an even larger margin. But given how difficult the Senate map is for Democrats next year, Scott may be considered the chamber’s most vulnerable GOP incumbent. 

With Congress needing to raise the debt ceiling later this year, funding for entitlement programs, often considered a third rail in politics, is likely to remain an issue in the opening months of the 2024 campaign. While Biden’s timeline for making an announcement about seeking a second term isn’t clear, the Republican presidential primary is starting to move out of the shadows. Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, plans to announce her campaign at an event in Charleston, S.C., next week, while other potential candidates have announced new political organizations and visits to early voting states.

Starting gate

Multitasking:  Michigan Sen. Gary Peters is reprising his role as chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but that inherently political role didn’t stop him from scoring legislative wins in the last Congress.

Sidelined?: Peters also said that while it was too early to say whether he might get involved in the primary to replace retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow, his fellow Michigan Democrat, he noted that the DSCC stayed out of contested primaries with viable candidates last cycle “if you had people running in a primary who could win the general election. It was for me, I thought it was best to let the people of the state decide who they wanted to have … as their nominee,” Peters said.

Not couch cushion change: Members of the 117th Congress who have since left Capitol Hill still hold nearly $54 million in leftover political money. For those heading to K Street, “it becomes very convenient to have a personal PAC,” lawyer Jan Baran told us. 

Party dues: The eight lawmakers atop the four House “A” committees transferred more than $5.2 million from their own political accounts to their respective parties’ campaign arms in the 2022 cycle, according to a new report shared first with CQ Roll Call by the campaign finance overhaul group Issue One. 

Political clout: Asian American and Pacific Islanders make up an increasing share of the American electorate: Their numbers grew from 5.5 million in 2008 to 9.5 million in 2020. While they generally vote Democratic, New York Rep. Grace Meng said her party shouldn’t take AAPI voters for granted. “We have a lot of work and a lot of room for improvement … especially because Republicans are making serious plays for our community.”

‘Politics ain’t beanbag’: As a Republican from deep-blue New York, Rep. Mike Lawler is used to being a perennial underdog, CQ Roll Call’s Justin Papp writes in a Q&A with the freshman who ousted then-DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney.

Spartz sits out 2024: Rep. Victoria Spartz, the Ukrainian-born Republican from Indiana who has sparred with the leaders of her party on several key issues, won’t run for Senate — or reelection to the House. Her announcement, which clears the Senate field for Republican Rep. Jim Banks, caught some by surprise. But Spartz, 44, never planned a long career in politics, telling CQ Roll Call last year that “I’m going to get some stuff done and get the hell out of politics, for sure.” 

ICYMI

Stirring the SOTU sauce: Before LeBron broke the NBA scoring record, Capitol Hill was crowded for a big speech Tuesday, and the CQ Roll Call newsroom tuned in and fanned out. Niels broke down the themes Biden hit, Mary Ellen tracked the official and semi-official rebuttals, Jim Saksa read the mood in the chamber, John T. Bennett offered his analysis, and Lindsey McPherson and an army of helpers assessed the policy pitches for what’s DOA and what’s got a chance. The following day, Niels and Jim joined Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick for a debrief on the Political Theater podcast. And if you’re sitting there wondering how James Madison would have responded to George W. Bush’s State of the Union addresses, there’s an app for that, produced by Factba.se, one of our sister companies, and available on its AI-enhanced SOTU dashboard.

Endorsement watch: Indiana GOP Rep. Greg Pence has jumped on the bandwagon of endorsements for Banks’ campaign for the state’s open Senate race. Republican Scott Baugh, who lost a closer-than-expected race against Rep. Katie Porter in California’s 47th District, announced a slate of new endorsements for his 2024 bid for the seat, which Porter is vacating to run for Senate. Baugh’s endorsements come from Orange County Supervisor and Chairman of the Board Don Wagner, Irvine City Council Member Mike Carroll, and several other local mayors and councilmembers, according to a news release. 

All politics is local: Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García is touting a new endorsement this morning in his Chicago mayoral bid from former Gov. Pat Quinn, as public polls show a tightening race ahead of the crowded, nonpartisan Feb. 28 election. Current Mayor Lori Lightfoot, García and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas are in a “dead heat,” according to news reports. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will happen April 4. Meanwhile, García’s campaign said it would refund a donation from indicted FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

New PAC: Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who lost a Senate bid last year, launched a PAC that will support “young candidates, candidates of color, LGBTQ+ candidates, and candidates from working class backgrounds.”

Kind on K Street: Democratic former Rep. Ron Kind, who did not seek reelection in Wisconsin in 2022, has landed on K Street at Arnold & Porter’s legislative and public policy practice. He will advise “clients on significant legislative and policy issues that intersect with the business concerns at the forefront of the Congressional agenda,” according to his bio. Kind held $721,000 in his campaign account and leadership PAC as of Dec. 31, according to FEC filings.

Is it legal to check that box?: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit said this week that an investigation into the GOP fundraising platform WinRed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison may proceed. The case involves “pre-checked recurring-donation checkboxes” that some candidates and committees use in which donors have to opt out to avoid repeated charges on their credit cards. “Minnesota’s consumer-protection law prohibits deceptive practices, and federal law does not preempt Minnesota’s enforcing it against WinRed,” the court wrote. WinRed did not respond to a request for comment. 

What we’re reading

Flawed narrative: Pictures showing long lines of students at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University waiting to vote gave rise to theories that young voters turned out in record numbers and swung the midterm elections in the Wolverine State. But statistics released by the secretary of State’s office this week show that participation by voters 30 and under was actually down from 2018, Bridge Michigan reports.

Bipartisan Banks: Indiana GOP Senate candidate Banks invited his state’s House Democratic leader, Phil GiaQuinta, as his guest to this week’s State of the Union, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reports. “When he called, I was a little surprised,” GiaQuinta told the outlet.

‘Hard right turn’: Semafor examines former President Donald Trump’s position on transgender health care, writing that LGBT advocates and social conservatives alike regard the shift as a “watershed moment, one that signaled a hard right turn” and may forecast how other GOP candidates run on the issue in 2024. 

Demographic shift: Half of the 60 Black lawmakers elected to this Congress represent states or districts with a plurality of white voters, according to an Axios analysis, marking a “dramatic shift” from the recent past.

The count $472,870

That’s how much former California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes’ campaign committee reported receiving just from net interest and investment income since he announced his resignation from the House in December 2021 to become CEO of Trump’s media company. The committee had $11.2 million on hand at the end of last year.

Nathan’s notes

It’s not good for Biden’s 2024 chances that an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 4 in 10 Americans saying they were worse off financially since he became president. But considering how Democrats overperformed in November, when the economy was also voters’ No. 1 concern, the finding may not be as damning as it seems, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Candidate confessions

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, said Wednesday that even though his faith is central to his work in politics, he didn’t realize how much the chamber would call on his other role. “I was surprised when I came to the Senate how much the Senate itself needs a pastor,” he quipped Wednesday night at the Washington Press Club Foundation’s 77th annual congressional dinner, held at the newly minted Waldorf Astoria (formerly Trump) Hotel. “I don’t mind being the senator when I’m here, the pastor when I’m in Georgia. But too often my colleagues, quite often, have asked me to be the pastor in the Senate. Not only do they come up, often on both sides of the aisle, and ask me to pray for them, my colleagues constantly come up to me with heavy hearts in moments of confession. I take that very seriously. And so I would only share that in strict confidence — with this gathered crowd.” That last part elicited big laughs from the huge crowd of journalists, members of Congress and lobbyists. “Last week, Cory Booker told me he ate a piece of bacon,” he joked of his famously vegan colleague from New Jersey. Astronaut-turned-Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly “confessed that the moon landing really was a hoax.” 

Shop talk: Alex Goldstein

Goldstein is CEO of 90 West, a Boston-based strategic communications firm, and has served as a campaign adviser to Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, among other Democrats. He also runs Faces of Covid, a social media platform memorializing those who died of COVID-19. 

Starting out: Goldstein studied politics and journalism at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. “I had applied for a job at The Boston Globe and was interviewing to be a sportswriter,’’ he said. “At the same time, I had started volunteering as a grassroots organizer on what was then a very long-shot campaign for governor by Deval Patrick back in 2005.” Patrick won, “and that really changed the trajectory of my entire professional life, because when you are in the door at a very early stage in politics, there’s a lot of mobility.” By 23, he was communications director for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and, by 26, he was the governor’s press secretary. “A lot of people took a lot of risks putting me in positions I probably wasn’t ready for,’’ Goldstein said, “but I have found throughout my career that trial by fire is a pretty good way to learn.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: The Boston Marathon bombings happened three weeks after Goldstein left the Patrick administration, but he immediately returned in an unofficial and unpaid capacity to help handle the crush of national and international media that descended on the city. “We needed all hands on deck,’’ he recalled. “It was one of the most intense experiences of my life.” Patrick handled the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a “calm, reassuring, empathetic” manner, Goldstein said, and “that taught me a lot about what people need to see and hear during a crisis.”

Biggest campaign regret: “In my time working directly on campaigns, the times when I have made the biggest mistakes and where I ultimately have my biggest regrets is when hubris takes over and you think you are a smarter strategist than you really are,’’ Goldstein said. “It’s very easy in the heat of political battle to not realize what you don’t know. A little bit of humility can go a long way in politics.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Social media has the tendency to reduce people to cartoon characters in a zero-sum battle for middle earth and that is not the way most voters are. Twitter is not a substitute for talking to real people about how they feel about issues. When you do that, you realize people are way more complex and nuanced than social media gives them credit for.”

Coming up

Republican Kari Lake lost the November election for governor of Arizona by about 17,000 votes and lost a lawsuit to challenge the result, but she continues to fundraise while refusing to concede. On Saturday, she’s scheduled a meet and greet with voters in Arkeny, Iowa, paid for by the Save Arizona Fund, a 501(c)4 nonprofit that does not disclose its donors.

Photo finish

President Joe Biden shakes hands Tuesday with Speaker Kevin McCarthy before telling the California Republican in his State of the Union speech, “I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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