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At the Races: Crime vote & punishment

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It’s early in the 2024 election cycle but not too early, obviously, for a blitz of attack ads and messaging on crime. GOP operatives are out this week attacking potentially vulnerable House Democrats who voted against a disapproval resolution to nullify D.C.’s controversial criminal code measure. That House vote on Feb. 9 came before most Senate Democrats joined with congressional Republicans in a rare show of bipartisanship to overturn the local law on Wednesday. President Joe Biden initially opposed the GOP resolution but then reversed and said he was on board, angering some House D’s over the whole situation.   

Senate GOP operatives weren’t left with much to work with, since every Democrat in the chamber with a real race in ’24 voted for the resolution overturning the measure, which would have reduced certain criminal penalties, including for carjackings. But Texas Rep. Colin Allred, who is eyeing a challenge to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, was among the 173 House Democrats who voted against the resolution. “Colin Allred’s support for D.C.’s radical pro-crime law will be a major issue for him if he decides to run statewide,” said Mike Berg, spokesman for the NRSC. Allred’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

The NRCC released a bunch of new digital spots, like this one hitting Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright. The ad, complete with a haunting soundtrack and horror movie-style narration, called the D.C. measure “so crazy, even President Biden won’t support the anarchy. What’s next, defund the police?” Other spots focus on Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola and Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild, among others. The main House GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, put out a flurry of press releases attacking those same Democrats and a few others. 

None of the attacks get deep into the details of D.C.’s law, which the city’s Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed, or that many of the House Democrats voted against the resolution because they say they support home-rule for the nation’s capital city. Nuance isn’t really a feature of political attacks. Still, some vulnerable House Democrats may find themselves in a bind if crime is a top-of-mind issue in congressional races next year, and their campaign arm is hitting back. 

“House Democrats have proven they are committed to public safety — combating gun violence, funding local policing, and working to improve justice and accountability at all levels of government,” DCCC spokesperson Tommy Garcia told ATR in an email.

Starting gate

Budget bundle: Biden just hours ago released a new round of fodder for campaign ads, also known as the president’s budget. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that, yes, the budget offers a statement of Biden’s values — repeating a line from many a budget day past. CQ and Roll Call of course have complete coverage, with David Lerman Paul M. Krawzak kicking things off.

Bumpy business: IBM and Pirelli Tire North America are among a handful of companies adopting a new set of corporate responsibility principles, developed with the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, aimed at helping businesses navigate a turbulent political and lobbying environment.

Gipper g’bye: The overlapping Republican gatherings at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the Principles First Summit over the weekend left no doubt former President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment has been repealed. At CPAC, former President Donald Trump trashed “RINOs,” including former Speaker Paul D. Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, while Florida Sen. Rick Scott said establishment Republicans have “gotten used to caving in to the Democrats.” Meanwhile, former Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock told Mary Ellen at the Principles First Summit that Republicans planning to run in suburbs should wait until 2026 if Trump is on the ballot. But one candidate summiteers might have rallied behind, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, said Sunday he’s not running for president.

Redefinition: Democrats who huddled last week in Baltimore showcased the diverse group of women in the freshman class of the 118th Congress and emphasized that “women’s issues” include economics, climate and criminal justice.

ICYMI

Full House: With Tuesday’s historic swearing-in of Rep. Jennifer McClellan, the whole number of the House is actually 435, with every seat having a sitting member. But don’t look now — with the upcoming resignation of Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, there will be a seat open by June.

The No Label party label: Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes announced in a statement Tuesday that No Labels, a group supporting political moderation that has plans for a “unity ticket” if it deems the major-party presidential candidates too extreme, had met the signature requirements to get a ballot line in the state in 2024. “As Secretary of State, I am committed to supporting county election officials to ensure that they are prepared for this new addition to the state’s list of parties and any other changes to the 2024 ballot,” he said. The Replace Sinema PAC, which is working to oust Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, said in a statement that the No Labels ticket “would threaten Democrats holding the Senate seat in Arizona.”

Buddy system: The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus released its 63-member (32 Democrats, 31 Republicans) roster this week, and it’s heavily populated with representatives of crossover districts that backed the opposite party’s presidential candidate in 2020. They include the Republican co-chairman, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and both the Republican and Democratic whips: Don Bacon of Nebraska and Jared Golden of Maine, respectively. Other crossover Democrats are Washington’s Marie Gluesenkamp Perez and Alaska’s Mary Peltola, while there are 10 other crossover Republicans: Arizona’s Juan Ciscomani; California’s David Valadao and Young Kim; New Jersey’s Thomas H. Kean Jr.; New York’s Nick Lalota, Anthony D’Esposito, Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams; and Oregon’s Lori Chavez-DeRemer. 

Open for business: Three Democratic strategists are hanging a shingle, opening Liftoff Campaigns, a new firm that will focus on communications and digital fundraising. The partners are Zack Carroll, who has worked for the campaigns of Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey and Senate candidates Jaime Harrison and Val B. Demings; Jane Hughes, who specializes in digital fundraising and has overseen such work for EMILY’s List and numerous candidates; and Joshua Karp, who served as a chief communications strategist for now-Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia. Karp declined to disclose specific clients of the new shop but said they include members of Congress, candidates and organizations. Too often, Karp told ATR, there’s a disconnect between a campaign’s messaging and its digital fundraising. “You actually raise more money when your communications strategy and digital strategy are aligned,” he said.  

Photo problems: GOP Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, who is a potential Senate candidate, said he didn’t mean to pose for a recent photo with members of the neo-Nazi movement, telling the Billings Gazette that he “was asked for a photo while walking between hearings, accommodating as I do for all photo requests, and was not aware of the individuals’ identity or affiliation with these hate groups that stand in stark contrast to my personal beliefs.”

He’s running again: Wisconsin GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman said he plans to seek a sixth term next year, despite saying he would serve a maximum of five terms when he first ran roughly a decade ago. 

Ex-rep update: Former Louisiana Rep. John Fleming is running for state treasurer, after previously considering a run for lieutenant governor.  

Not running: Republican Rep. Garret Graves won’t run for governor of Louisiana, saying he and his wife decided after “much prayerful consideration and hundreds of conversations” that the best way to help the state and the next governor is by “building upon our wins in the U.S. Congress.” GOP Sen. John Kennedy said in January that he would not run. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited. The all-party gubernatorial primary is Saturday, Oct. 14.

Not saying: Asked about running for Senate or president in 2024, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III was cagey on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, arguing the country’s problems should come first. He said he would “make my political decision in December, whatever it may be.”

In memory: Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, died Friday of complications from cancer, according to the Connecticut Mirror. “A trailblazer and powerful advocate, Karen dedicated her career to reforming our government so it served everyone,” Common Cause Board Chair Martha Tierney said in a news release. “She was fearless in her pursuit of an inclusive democracy that lived up to its promise.” 

CPC membership: California Rep. Adam B. Schiff withdrew an application to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which some group members took issue with as he faces Reps. Barbara Lee and Katie Porter, two longtime members of the group, in the state’s open Senate race, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

Guilty plea: Lynda Bennett, who lost a GOP primary in 2020 to now-former Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, pleaded guilty this week to charges of violating campaign finance laws for accepting a conduit campaign donation, according to a news release from the Justice Department. In her failed bid, she had the backing of Mark Meadows, who held the seat before leaving to become then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Bennett borrowed money from a relative and then loaned it to her campaign, the DOJ said.

What we’re reading

Stu says: The 2024 campaign season is heating up as baseball spring training ends, so Stu Rothenberg borrows the title of columnist Jimmy Breslin’s book about the 120-loss 1962 Mets and asks, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

Senate hopes: GOP women’s groups are prodding the party to boost more female Senate candidates in 2024, reports The 19th News. “What has happened in the House over the last few cycles is that people finally realized that in a lot of these races, the woman is the better candidate,” VIEW PAC’s Julie Conway told the outlet. 

Daines on the party divide: The Washington Post profiles Montana Sen. Steve Daines, the NRSC chair trying to navigate the divide between the party’s establishment and MAGA base. Daines is already proving that he will play a more active role in candidate recruitment than the previous campaign chair, Florida’s Rick Scott.  

Blocked by “sore loser” laws: Trump’s most ardent supporters have suggested he might make a run as an independent should he lose the GOP nomination. But a Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy analysis found that the former president may be thwarted by “sore loser” laws in 28 states, preventing candidates from running in the general election if they lose their party primary. 

Bigger Congress: Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon is pushing a plan to expand the U.S. House of Representatives. The House currently has 435 members; Blumenauer wants to see that number increase by 150. The Democratic lawmaker told Jefferson Public Radio that expanding Congress to 585 members would give citizens more access to their elected representatives.  

The count: $6 million

That’s how much 18 House and Senate members — 15 Republicans, three Democrats — had in unpaid campaign bills after winning their races in November, Federal Election Commission disclosures show. And that figure doesn’t include loans they made to their own campaigns as far back as 2010. Adding that would bring the debt total to $17.3 million. Some lawmakers told Kate they have since paid off their debts to vendors and staffers, but others owed more than they had left in their accounts on Dec. 31, meaning they’re raising money this year to pay for last year’s race.

Nathan’s notes

Unlike last cycle, when nearly every state redrew districts, it is easier to identify the most competitive House seats for the 2024 cycle, Nathan Gonzales notes. Technically, Democrats need a net gain of five seats for a majority. But that number could functionally be more if Republicans are able to draw new, friendlier congressional maps in Ohio and North Carolina. Inside Elections’ first ratings of every House district, coming Friday, will center on 12 toss-up races. Eight are currently held by Republicans and four by Democrats, but all but one, Washington’s 3rd District, were carried by Joe Biden in the 2020 election. If the Democratic presidential nominee does as well or better in 2024, and if Democrats win a disproportionate number of toss-up races compared with 2022, that could be a recipe for Republicans losing their majority.

Candidate confessions

A few months after leaving office, former Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he is “starting to see the light again” after a difficult time being a leading Republican Trump critic in Congress. “In decompressing, kind of working through it, it’s like, it was rough. It’s been a rough couple of years, and I don’t say that to get sympathy,” Kinzinger, an Air National Guard veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told reporters after speaking at the Principles First summit this past weekend. “You can only get enough text messages from friends that say, like, ‘I hate you.’ I had my co-pilot in the war that told me I should have just stayed a pilot because I’m a terrible politician and he was ashamed to have fought with me.”

Shop talk: Tory Gavito

Gavito is the co-founder, president and CEO of Way to Win, a Democratic strategy network formed in 2017. 

Starting out: A lawyer by trade, Gavito worked on immigrant rights and employment rights cases before deciding she wanted a change. “There’s only so many deportation cases you sit through or wage claims on behalf of immigrant workers or H2B workers that you sit through before you realize the system needs an overhaul,” she said. She became the first executive director of the Texas Future Project, a donor table, which is a kind of organization that brings funders together and helps build infrastructure around voting and canvas programs, among other things. While there, she worked on overhauling Democratic politics in the state starting at the local level. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “You know, 2022 was not a bad year,” she said. “Seeing that Lina Hidalgo in fact won her reelect [for Harris County, Texas, judge] in Houston, seeing that so many congresspeople we had supported across the states were indeed going … we saw our endorsed list get through and win.” Democrats winning several key secretary of state races also gave her a “calm” about going into the 2024 cycle, she said. 

Biggest campaign regret: “It was my first rodeo when I was invited to sit in circles with senior leadership in the Wendy Davis for Texas [governor] campaign in 2014. I just remember having so many questions about strategy or ideas about strategy, and I held my tongue because, certainly, it was my first year in politics and certainly people who have come before me know more than me. I should listen and observe,” she said. “And after that race I thought, you know what, everybody is doing the best they can. And if there’s someone that has a new voice or a new idea, just get it out there. What’s the worst that can happen?” 

Unconventional wisdom: “Political operatives have a giant task in front of them. They’ve got to figure out how to move tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people their way, depending on the scale of the campaign,” she said. “And so we’re humans, so we categorize everything.” Doing that might “stymie our strategy,” though, she said. “What we realize is if you start with a values-oriented purpose statement and drill it home every single time, you will fare better. And so I just want to encourage, it’s not conventional for us to think about what’s the message that’s going to both persuade white voters to turn out for your candidate and turn out young people of color. But it might be, actually.”

Coming up

Redos are not new in North Carolina, where in 2019 they had to redo a House election after the 2018 results were thrown out because of fraud tied to one of the Republican nominee’s consultants. Next week, the state Supreme Court will rehear a redistricting case that was decided over a year ago and found the congressional map set by the Republican-controlled legislature was politically gerrymandered in violation of the state constitution. Running with a redrawn map, Democrats in November picked up two House seats in the Tar Heel State. In the same election, Republicans picked up two seats on the state Supreme Court, and the new 5-2 GOP majority voted in February to rehear the case. The 2022 ruling had already been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and state lawmakers argued in December that courts should not have a say in how federal elections are run because the Constitution gives that power to legislatures. Last week, the nation’s high court asked for more briefs, which was seen as a stall while the state court took the case up again.

Photo finish

A sign carried at a march and rally of D.C. statehood activists at Union Station on Wednesday shows everyone getting a share of the blame ahead of the Senate voting to disapprove the District of Columbia’s overhaul of its criminal code. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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