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At the Races: Price hike pols like

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.

We let you know a full fortnight ago, when the Federal Election Commission revised campaign donation limits, that individuals may now give up to $3,300 to a congressional candidate for each election (so $6,600 for the primary and the general combined). Well, by now a number of campaigns and candidates have caught on and are incorporating the change, based on the high rate of inflation, into their digital pitches and price for attendance at events. 

A fundraising appeal for Donald Trump, a full 11 days after the FEC announced the change, came into inboxes with “URGENT: New federal limit” and asked donors to increase their own donations by 14 percent as a way to beat back the billionaire globalists “trying to stop our presidential campaign.”

Some donors — or more likely lawyers or accountants working for them or the campaigns they’re supporting — apparently predicted the new limits and were already writing $3,300 checks late last year. They include a couple of contributors to Virginia Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who is favored to win a special election Tuesday in the 4th District. The new individual contribution limits are retroactive to Nov. 9, and the federal statute spells out how the inflation adjustment  is supposed to be calculated. “I wouldn’t be able to speculate how some committees accurately projected these new limits back in December,” commission spokesman Christian J. Hilland wrote in an email.

It’s going to become a familiar number to the donor class. 

Want to sign on as a host for a March 9 reception benefiting the campaign of new Oregon Democratic Rep. Val Hoyle? Cost is, you guessed it, $3,300, according to an invitation.  Interested in becoming a “Season Pass” holder for some GOP senators, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who has a defense industry lunch slated for March 1? An individual will have to pony up $3,300, according to a notice shared with lobbyists.

Starting gate

New battle, old playbook: Transgender issues are likely to loom large in 2024, and Republicans are following the same strategy they used to advance anti-abortion legislation: Start in the states and focus first on minors, CQ Roll Call’s  Sandhya Raman reports.  

Bye-Fi: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein made it official Tuesday: The 89-year-old Democrat won’t seek reelection next year. Two Democratic members of the California House delegation — Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — have already kicked off their Senate campaigns, and a third Democrat — Rep. Barbara Lee — filed paperwork Wednesday for a run, although she has yet to make a formal announcement.

Friends of Manchin: Should Sen. Joe Manchin III seek reelection next year, the West Virginia Democrat would almost certainly rely on a network of K Street lobbyists, corporate executives and out-of-state donors to help fund his campaign. But those ties may also pose as a liability on the campaign trail.

Hardly valentines: Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may both be Republicans, but their dispute over how to talk about entitlements has been on public display, and President Joe Biden seems to be doing everything he can to keep the heat on the issue. The Club for Growth PAC, meanwhile, threw its support behind Scott’s reelection on Wednesday, saying he’s faced “unfounded and false attacks of liberal Democrats like President Biden and even establishment Republicans like Leader McConnell.”

2024 takes off: Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, launched her presidential campaign this week, walking a line between her potential to become the first female president and decrying “identity politics,” which is unpopular in the Republican Party. For more about the 2024 landscape, listen to Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick and elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales on this week’s “Political Theater” podcast.


He’s back: Democrat Adam Frisch, who very nearly ousted Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, launched his second attempt this week with a flurry of fundraising appeals. “In 2022, we came just 546 votes short of kicking Boebert out of Congress,” he wrote in one. “It was the closest race in the entire country. Now, I’m running again to finish the job, but I need you with me from day one: Please, will you make a donation now and become a Founding Donor to my 2024 campaign to defeat Boebert?” Given how divisive Boebert is, big money may well descend on this race. Last cycle, it wasn’t on the radar as a potentially competitive race. “With Lauren Boebert now on notice, this campaign is going to get even nastier,” Frisch wrote in another email fundraising request. 

Running again: Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, plans to seek reelection next year, CQ Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley reports. But Granger, 80, hasn’t decided whether she would seek a waiver to remain atop the panel, where she faces term limits from House GOP rules. 

Climate follow-up: The Green New Deal Network announced Wednesday it will spend $10 million nationwide to support its priorities as the federal government works to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law and the inflation-focused reconciliation law signed by Biden last year. “We’ve got to be sure these resources are put to work quickly for front-line communities who can’t wait another day to have access to cleaner air, safer communities and family-sustaining jobs,” said Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who participated in a virtual event highlighting the effort.

Disequilibrium on deck: Lobbyist Bruce Mehlman is out with a new slide deck examining the “extreme uncertainty” that this year presents to anyone attempting to navigate policy and political risk.

Election protection project: The group Issue One added Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, to its Faces of Democracy effort, a bipartisan campaign of election officials and poll workers to protect U.S. elections. Others joining include Champaign, Ill., County Clerk and Recorder Aaron Ammons; Dave Bjerke, director of elections in Falls Church, Va.; former Utah County Clerk/Auditor Josh Daniels; former Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill; Maricopa County, Ariz., Recorder Stephen Richer; Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State and President of the National Association of State Election Directors Rob Rock; and King County, Wash., Director of Elections Julie Wise. 

Oops: A state judge will have to sort things out after two people were sworn in to a single vacant seat on a North Jersey borough council. Meanwhile, a school board in a Jersey Shore-area township swore in the loser of an election, a recount found.

New recruit: The Democratic consulting firm MZL recently added Danny Kazin, who ran outside group American Bridge’s paid media efforts in the 2022 election cycle. Kazin previously ran the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm, overseeing a $102 million budget in the 2020 cycle.

Staffing up: South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, a potential presidential candidate, hired former Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Rob Collins, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to co-chair a super PAC supporting Scott’s political efforts. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: Some of the potential GOP challengers to Trump for the 2024 presidential nomination will get a lot of attention but have no shot “and everyone knows that,” our columnist Stuart Rothenberg writes.

Not-so-new Greene: Our columnist Walter Shapiro looks back a few weeks to the stories published by major outlets about a “new” Marjorie Taylor Greene, which haven’t aged well after her performance at the State of the Union last week.

Luna’s right turn: The Washington Post published a long story last week that raised questions about Rep. Anna Paulina Luna’s biography. It wasn’t the first time journalists have dug into the Florida Republican’s background. In 2020, when Luna made her first unsuccessful run for Congress, the Tampa Bay Times chronicled her shift from “avid supporter” of Barack Obama to staunch conservative.   

‘Greater Idaho’ gets a legislative boost: Efforts to create a conservative mega-state in the West cleared a key hurdle this week, according to a report by Boise State Public Radio. The Idaho House State Affairs Committee voted to authorize state lawmakers to begin talks with their counterparts in Oregon on a plan to fold 11 rural counties in eastern Oregon into Idaho. The plan faces a number of hurdles, and even if legislators in both Idaho and Oregon endorsed the deal, it couldn’t happen without congressional approval.

Honoring a trailblazer: Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress, but there’s no statue honoring her in her native Brooklyn — or at the U.S. Capitol. Efforts are underway to change that, according to City & State. A monument honoring Chisholm at the entrance to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is currently in the design phase. Meanwhile, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., has introduced legislation to erect a statue of Chisholm at the Capitol, where a painting of the barrier-breaking congresswoman has hung since 2009.

Defying history: Paul Kane of The Washington Post takes a look at the possibility of a smaller than usual number of senators running for president, with Missouri’s Josh Hawley among those bowing out. Part of it may be the Trump factor.

The count: $913,000

That’s how much Virginia Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan reported last week she raised through Feb. 1 for her run for the deep blue Richmond-area House seat in Virginia’s 4th District vacated by Rep. A. Donald McEachin’s death. McEachin died on Nov. 28, and McClellan booked her first contributions on Dec. 12. Ten days later, she won the special Democratic primary and had already raised nearly $388,000, her disclosure to the FEC shows. Republican opponent Leon Benjamin reported raising $64,000, and he had $23,000, to McClellan’s $492,000, on hand Feb. 1. McClellan’s Democratic primary opponent, fellow state Sen. Joe Morrissey, won’t have to file until the end of the quarter.

Nathan’s notes

Even if a Democrat pulls off an upset in Mississippi’s governor’s race — a tougher climb than it appears from a recent poll — it doesn’t mean much for the outlook for either party in 2024, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. 

Candidate confessions

California Democratic Rep. Norma J. Torres says her party needs to take steps to retain Latino voters. “The Latino community is ours to lose, for sure,” Torres tells CQ Roll Call’s Justin Papp. “It is one of the reasons why members like myself have been pushing and pushing on the [Democratic National Committee] to do a better job. It is the reason why in our caucus, we push to have a Latino outreach program and our talking points translated, not just in Spanish but in other languages.” Torres, who was born in Guatemala, said Latino voters are often conservative on matters of faith and tend to be patriarchal. “Heads of households have traditionally been just the males, and the women are the support,” Torres said. “But that has changed, and what Latinos want and need is an explanation of how government works. When you come from a country that is killing its citizens, as many of these immigrants do, they don’t trust the government. So they fall prey to things like QAnon, where a lot of these folks are talking to them in Spanish.”

Shop talk: Joe Dinkin

Joe Dinkin is national campaigns director for the Working Families Party, a labor-backed organization that supports progressive candidates.

Starting out: A film major in college, he took a temporary job as a canvasser for the Working Families Party nearly 20 years ago. “I thought it was something to do for the summer, but I didn’t really believe in politics as a way to make change in the world,” he said. “Cynical was kind of cool at 20, and most of my friends were not voters and not hyper-politically aware the way a lot of young people are now.” His first big campaign was the 2004 drive to increase the minimum wage in New York from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. Dinkin and his team had gathered in a Dunkin’ Donuts the night the legislature voted to override Republican Gov. George Pataki’s veto. When Dinkin announced that the measure was about to pass, “one of the two women working at the Dunkin’ Donuts started tearing up about the impact raising the minimum wage was going to have on her life and her baby,” he recalled. “That moment kind of changed my life. That moment introduced me to the fact that collective action can actually change basic living standards for millions of people.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Dinkin spent the 2022 election cycle running the Working Families Party’s national independent expenditure program. Six of the progressive candidates that the group supported won seats in Congress, “some of them against much more well-funded candidates, against powerful political machines, against some of the biggest spenders in Democratic politics” including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. The Working Families-aligned PAC spent several million dollars on races last cycle, Dinkin said. “Starting out at WFP … that was something I couldn’t imagine doing,” he said.

Biggest campaign regret: “When your job and your political beliefs are so tightly wound up together … it gets hard to draw lines between work and not work,” he said. “It’s hard not to be consumed [by] it, and it’s taken me the better part of 20 years to come close to getting that balance right. If you are intending to do this kind of work for a long time, you really need to find some way to have a balance, find some ways to have activities and hobbies and time for family outside work.”

Unconventional wisdom: Dinkin encourages those seeking to work on campaigns to cast a wide net. “There are some well-trod paths into politics, the major party committees, and things like that,’’ he said. “I think a lot of people who really make change are the people who try to do something different.” His other bit of advice: “Be nice. Politics can be cutthroat, and being nice to people is an undervalued skill.”

Coming up

The special election between McClellan and Benjamin to fill the term of McEachin in Virginia’s 4th District is Tuesday.

Photo finish

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, center, huddles with Democratic Sens. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Joe Biden of Delaware at a Nov. 13, 1993, hearing. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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