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At the Races: Back to the future

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House Democrats are looking back to what they did in 2021 and 2022 as they make plans this week to try and win back the majority next year.

In Baltimore for their annual issues retreat, House Democrats are focused on how to implement legislation they passed in the last Congress that they believe, executed well, could convince voters to return them to the majority next year. 

“We’re here today and tomorrow to continue the conversation that Democrats are going to finish the work that we have in the past two years and Americans are going to reject Republican extremism in 2024,” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, the chair of the New Democrats, said Thursday at a press conference. 

On the Senate floor today, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York voiced a similar theme ahead of his caucus’ meeting with President Joe Biden: “The last two years focused on getting our agenda passed,” he said. “The next two years will be about implementing that agenda.”

The New Dems added a national finance chair for the first time this year, Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas, who said the group’s members “represent the vast majority of battleground districts” and that it was important to build up resources to be competitive.

“We don’t know what we’re going to be facing coming into this cycle,” he said, noting that continued redistricting in some states could affect the map. 

Biden helped kick off the House conference with an appearance on Wednesday. While the president hasn’t officially said he’ll seek reelection next year, Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois said she was “very pleased to have the opportunity to be on the ballot” with Biden next year. 

“Let’s talk about what happened in 2022. In 2022, we had a class of very strong frontline members that 35 of us came back,” Underwood said.

Of course, House Democrats lost a net nine seats in last year’s elections. That was fewer than  predicted, which they say is a win. 

Biden’s trip to the Capitol today comes a day after vulnerable Sens. Jon Tester and Joe Manchin III joined Republicans in voting for a joint resolution disapproving of a Labor Department rule allowing fiduciaries to include environmental, social and corporate governance considerations in investment decisions. Their votes likely set up the first veto of Biden’s presidency. 

The lunch meeting may have only been so awkward, though. Tester, who is seeking reelection, and Manchin, who hasn’t declared if he’ll run again, are Democrats’ best bets to keeping Montana and West Virginia blue as they try to hold on to their narrow majority in 2024.

Starting gate

#MISEN: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin is running for Michigan’s open Senate seat, becoming the first major candidate to declare in what is expected to be a competitive race and leaving open a battleground House seat.

Garcia will remain in the House: Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García lost his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor. The Democrat from Illinois came in fourth in Tuesday’s nonpartisan election; only the top two contenders — former Chicago public schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson — qualified for the April 4 runoff.

Attack ad avoidance?: Before Democrats left the Capitol for their Baltimore retreat, 59 of them voted for a GOP-crafted bill aimed at inflation, even though many Democrats said during debate that the bill was a stunt, and there’s little chance it ever gets a vote in the Senate, CQ Roll Call’s David Lerman writes. 

ICYMI

Means test: The Federal Election Commission has some questions related to money transfers and gifts to colleagues for the campaign of Missouri GOP Rep. Jason Smith, who won a competitive House Republican Conference election to become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The agency asked Smith’s campaign, in a letter this week, to “amend” a prior report or to “provide an explanation” for an “apparent discrepancy” between money transfers from a joint fundraising committee, Smith Victory. The commission advised Smith’s campaign that itemized disbursements “must include a brief statement or description of why each disbursement was made,” asking the campaign to amend information pertaining to such items as “Commemorative Gifts — GOP Members” and “Holiday Gifts — GOP Committee Members,” according to the letter. 

He’s probably shy: The annual Dallas GOP Reagan Dinner on Saturday, normally open to the press, will not be this year, when the special guest is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Endorsement watch: Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, along with his Serve America PAC, endorsed fellow Rep. Ruben Gallego’s bid for Senate in Arizona. “As a fellow Marine Corps veteran, he put his life on the line in Iraq where his unit took horrific casualties,” Moulton said in a news release. Gallego is running for the Democratic nomination, while the incumbent in the race, Kyrsten Sinema, switched her party affiliation to independent from Democrat. Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, David Trone of Maryland and former Rep. Max Rose of New York endorsed former Rep. Harley Rouda’s bid to succeed Rep.-turned-Senate candidate Katie Porter in California’s 47th District.

Joining forces: The NRSC announced that South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham would lead an effort to partner with “nominee funds in West Virginia, Ohio and Montana to ensure the nominee in each state has a war chest ready as soon as they win their primary.” The move comes as the committee is trying to avoid a repeat of what The Associated Press called a 2022 election with “a carnival-like aura, dominated by far-right candidates whose ill-advised remarks and damaging personal baggage ultimately cost the party its chance of retaking a majority.”

Stepping down: Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, will step down at the end of the month after eight years leading the Democratic super PAC. The group raised more than $650 million during Cecil’s tenure and has $26.5 million on hand and committed for this year, according to a statement. 

Farmer fundraising: The burgeoning bipartisan farmers caucus in the Senate doesn’t seem to be off to a smooth start. Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, in his fundraising ramp-up for a big reelection fight next year, has been telling his story to would-be donors: “I’m the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, and damn proud of it,” Tester wrote in one appeal. “My wife Sharla and I still work the very same land my grandparents farmed more than 100 years ago.” Not so fast, says new Sen. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Republican, who responded on Twitter: “Hate to break it to you, @jontester. You’ve got new blood in the Senate. Sixth generation Oklahoma farmer and rancher here.” Iowa GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley also identifies as a farmer, and in the final weeks of his reelection bid last year posted this video of him combining corn “on the Grassley farm.”   

Latino focus: California Rep. Linda T. Sánchez will be the first woman to chair the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC. “As we continue our fight to increase diversity in Congress, my top priority will be to ensure that the Latino community is central to the political process,” she said in a statement. 

Windmill tilt?: Roselle Park, N.J., Mayor Joe Signorello’s challenge to Sen. Bob Menendez in the 2024 Democratic primary has no big-name backers, and he hasn’t started fundraising, a New Jersey Monitor commentator writes, so the bid “may hinge almost entirely on the argument that Menendez is too scandal-plagued to reward with another term.”

Going dark: One byline you probably won’t see on that Menendez race is that of Jonathan Salant, Washington correspondent for NJ Advance Media, which owns New Jersey’s biggest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, and several others in the state. Advance announced this week it is closing its D.C. bureau and axing Salant, the award-winning former president of the National Press Club and a former head-to-head competitor of At the Races editor Herb Jackson and all-around good guy (even if he is a Mets fan).

What we’re reading

Inhofe exit interview: The Tulsa World published a far-ranging interview with recently retired Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe. The 88-year-old Republican reflected on his career and said he left the Senate because he’s suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19. “Five or six others have [long COVID], but I’m the only one who admits it,” Inhofe told the newspaper. (Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who is running for reelection next year, has said he suffers symptoms of long COVID.)

Tie breaker?: The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics teased out scenarios that could produce an Electoral College tie, throwing the decision of who would be president to the House, with each state getting a single vote.

Crowded field: Ted Nesi, politics editor at WPRI 12 in Providence, assessed potential candidates for Rhode Island’s 1st District seat, which Rep. David Cicilline plans to leave in June. Two leading contenders on the Democratic side are Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes. Among Republicans, Nesi cited Aaron Guckian, who ran for lieutenant governor last year, and state Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz. Allan Fung, who lost a race last year in the 2nd District, and his wife, state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, have also not ruled out a run.  

The count: 8

That’s how many more seats Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California is telling big donors his party’s House majority could have won in 2022 if not for weak GOP candidates for Senate and governor, Axios reports.

Nathan’s notes

Competition for a limited commodity drives up costs, and for House candidates in battleground states like Arizona and Michigan, that may mean higher ad rates, because candidates for Senate and president will also be buying airtime, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. 

Candidate confessions

A newly reelected state lawmaker in New Hampshire said out loud what we presume most candidates think right after an election. “My first priority tonight is to relax,” admitted Democrat Chuck Grassie, who recently won a tie-breaker revote (after the initial election resulted in a tie), according to Foster’s Daily Democrat. “I will be going to Concord tomorrow morning to meet with my fellow Democrats that I will be working with. Then, I plan on getting to work, getting caught up on what I have missed and looking forward,” he told the local outlet. 

Shop talk: Danny Kazin

Kazin recently joined MZL Media as a partner. Prior to this role, he ran American Bridge’s paid media program last cycle and ran the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm for the 2020 cycle. 

Starting out: “When you grow up in the D.C. area, as I did, I think you often have the choice early on in life whether or not politics is interesting and enticing to you as a career path, and I would say for me honestly it wasn’t. It felt kind of stodgy and boring and self-serving. But I got involved in the Obama campaign a bit in college in 2007, early on volunteering, knocking on doors in freezing temperatures and feet of snow. And I learned pretty quickly that campaigns are in many ways nothing like the D.C. politics that had kind of turned me off when I was a teenager. They were exciting and competitive and felt meaningful, and so I got hooked quickly.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “It’s kind of hard to beat calling Jacky Rosen on election night in 2018 and telling her she had just been elected as the next senator from the great state of Nevada,” said Kazin, who managed Rosen’s 2018 campaign. “For me, being lucky enough to be there with her from the beginning of her journey … to then, a couple years later, celebrating her big Senate win at Caesar’s Palace, it was just the kind of moment that you hope for, I think, when you get into this business.”

Biggest campaign regret: “As Iowa, I would say, transitions out of its longtime spot as the first-in-the-nation caucus, on the Democratic side at least, I would say that I regret never having actually experienced that on the ground. I never did the Iowa thing,” he said. “But obviously I’m excited for the other states, especially Nevada, to get their turn near the top of the calendar.”

Unconventional wisdom: “My wisdom or advice for folks just starting out, or like considering getting involved in campaigns for the first time, is just to not stress about exactly how to get started, just to jump in head first,” he said. “From organizing to fundraising to creating television ads, being a candidate, you know, campaigns I feel like at every level are really ultimately about the same thing, which is persuasion. You know, telling a compelling story that connects and building trust quickly and culminating in an ask, implicit or explicit, that gets people to take some sort of action they wouldn’t have otherwise. So I feel like if you really get in, jump in, focus on building those specific persuasion skills and then just doing whatever it takes to win, you can usually find a path to where you want to be in the industry overall.”

Coming up

Biden delivers his fiscal 2024 budget to the Hill on March 9, the first step in the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” jousting between the White House and House Republicans over the debt limit and spending that will dominate this year’s agenda. 

Photo finish

New Democrat Coalition Chair Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., and NewDem Action Fund finance chair Marc Veasey, D-Texas, talk Thursday as they leave a news conference the coalition held at the House Democrats 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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