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At the Races: Playing to the base

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Maybe it’s just because it’s the last few days with Congress in session before the end of an important fundraising quarter, but there sure seems to be a lot of political theater around Washington this week.

House Republicans are once again attracting attention to their internal disagreements using political oxygen on questions like whether they should impeach President Joe Biden or censure former House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff.

(A rule adopted by the House on Thursday punted the effort by Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., to impeach Biden to a couple of committees. The Schiff censure went ahead this week after revisions to get just enough of the House GOP on board).

But Saturday’s anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned the Roe. v. Wade precedent on national abortion rights, is the other dominant political topic.

The DCCC circulated a memo Thursday morning highlighting a recent Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll showing the clear majority said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

House Democrats think they can run on the issue even in places where abortion rights are protected by state law, places where the issue arguably wasn’t decisive in 2022.

“In competitive House races in New York and California, in particular, we see a unique opportunity to contrast two pro-choice voting electorates — where abortion is protected at the state level — with Republicans who are actively working to undermine a woman’s right to choose,” the memo stated.

Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who leads his caucus’s campaign arm, said Wednesday that Senate Democrats see the issue working for them as well.

“If you just look at the last cycle in 2022, there was no question that the decision made in the Dobbs case — taking away a fundamental right from women all across this country — was met with a large increase in voter turnout as women and others showed up to make sure that their voice was heard and push back on the extreme positions taken by Republican candidates,” he told reporters.

Starting gate

More Hurd on the Hill puns forecast: Former Texas congressman Will Hurd joined the Republican presidential free-for-all with an attack on the front-runner. “If we nominate a lawless, selfish, failed politician like Donald Trump, who lost the House, the Senate and the White House, we all know Joe Biden will win again,” he said.

Biden hits the road: The president crisscrossed the nation over the past few days, addressing gun violence prevention groups in Connecticut, union members in Pennsylvania and environmental justice activists in California. The rallies kicked off a campaign-related travel blitz designed to shore up support among key Democratic constituencies. 

#DESEN: Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester launched her campaign for Delaware’s open Senate seat, becoming the clear front-runner. If she wins, the Democrat would be the third Black woman elected to the Senate, and she has an easier path than other Black women running in states like California and Maryland. 

Abortion offense: Democrats made Republicans block a series of abortion-related bills on the Senate floor Wednesday, in just another sign that the Democrats think they have the advantage on the issue as the weekend anniversary of Dobbs approaches.

‘It makes me fight harder’: CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman interviewed five female members of the House and Senate from both parties about the post-Dobbs world. She found deeply personal stories and a new sense of resolve.

ICYMI

Summer assignment: Alabama legislators will have until July 21 to draw new congressional districts after the Supreme Court approved a lower court ruling earlier this month that found the state violated the Voting Rights Act with its current lines. 

Primary calendar: It appears that the shuffle in early voting states that Biden proposed will not fully take shape. The Democratic National Committee Laws and Bylaws Committee gave New Hampshire three more months to comply but may need to determine how to sanction the state if it goes ahead and holds the first primary of the year regardless of the party’s wishes. Meanwhile, South Carolina Republicans set a date of Feb. 24, 2024, which would move the primary after Nevada and give candidates more time to campaign in the Palmetto State. That date still needs to be confirmed by the Republican National Committee.

Two strikes and out: It isn’t often a candidate loses two primaries in six months, but after Virginia state Sen. Joe Morrissey was soundly beaten by then-state-Sen.-now-Rep. Jennifer McClellan in December’s special primary to fill the late Rep. A. Donald McEachin’s seat, Morrissey lost his bid for renomination to another legislative term this week. The loss by Morrissey, a Democrat who supports restrictions on abortion, was seen by The Washington Post as one that “could shore up Virginia’s status as the South’s last bastion of broad abortion rights.”

Ballot burdens: Ohio’s Supreme Court said there will be an Aug. 8 vote on whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution through the ballot box. The move, Republican lawmakers have said, was designed to impede efforts to pass an abortion rights amendment in the fall.

What we’re reading

Tis the season: With a two-week recess ahead, it never hurts to read up on the impeachment process in the House, as told by the Congressional Research Service.

The myth of the moderate voter: A sharp rise in the number of unaffiliated voters has fueled talk that the American electorate is moving away from partisan politics. But the reality is more complicated, writes The New Republic. “The idea that these voters are a secret army of moderates waiting to be unlocked by a centrist party is likely a myth,” the piece states. 

A delegation of one: California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is back on Capitol Hill after several recent medical crises. But her colleagues in the California delegation told CNN she seldom interacts with them — and hasn’t for years. “I don’t speak with her on a regular basis, and that’s been before any of the recent health challenges she’s had,” Rep. Mike Levin told the network.

Pride playlist: Rep. Robert Garcia, a California Democrat who’s been dubbed “America’s gayest congressman” by The Advocate, recently shared a playlist in honor of Pride month. The curated list, which spans from Britney to Beyoncé, Lizzo to Latto, won Garcia praise for his “impeccable musical taste.”

Political pressure in the Mountain state?: An NPR report is raising questions about pressure exerted by top government officials in West Virginia, including Gov. Jim Justice, in the dismissal of a West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter. “Gov. Justice’s presence was always looming over us,” a former reporter and producer told NPR. Justice, a Republican, is running for Senate.

The count: $0

That’s how much, down from $75 million in the current fiscal year, would be appropriated for election security grants in a fiscal 2024 spending bill approved Thursday by the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. Funding for operations of the Election Assistance Commission were also cut by 29 percent.

Nathan’s notes

Continuing a Stu Rothenberg tradition, Nathan tried his hand at producing a list of the “dangerous dozen” open House seats that were most in play. But there are only 11 seats that will be open in 2024 so far this year, and most of them are unlikely to flip.

Shop talk: Matt Mackowiak

Mackowiak is president of Potomac Strategy Group, a communications and political consulting firm based in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., that works with corporate clients in the energy, health care and tech sectors, as well as conservative candidates running for office from the local to the federal level. He also chairs the Travis County Republican Party and publishes a daily political newsletter, Must Read Texas.

Starting out: Mackowiak came to Washington after graduating from the University of Texas in 2003. He landed a political appointment with the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. After about 16 months, he left to work on Bush’s reelection campaign in Iowa. He later worked as a press secretary for Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: They all involved unexpected wins. “In recent years I’ve been drawn to taking what you might call long-shot candidates where we feel, and the candidate feels, there is a real opportunity other people don’t see,” he said. One of those candidates was Pete Flores, a former Texas game warden who, in 2018, won a seat in the state Senate that hadn’t been in Republican hands for a century. For Mackowiak, “the pinch-me moment” came when Rush Limbaugh devoted a full segment on his nationally broadcast radio show to the race. The other memorable win came in May of 2021, when Mackowiak teamed up with a local Democrat to promote a ballot initiative to reinstate a ban on public camping by people experiencing homelessness. “We overcame the opposition of the mayor and nine out of 10 council members to win 58-42,” he said. 

Biggest campaign regret: In 2006, Mackowiak was a volunteer on Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns’ reelection campaign. He was in Billings on election night, and as the results drifted in he grew despondent. Burns wound up losing to Democrat Jon Tester by about 3,500 votes. Although it was a bleak year for the GOP across the board — Bush’s popularity hit a low point as the Iraq War dragged on — Mackowiak felt Burns’ loss acutely. “For me, it was more that I didn’t plan an integral role in the campaign,” Mackowiak said. “I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to become emotionally invested in a candidate unless I had an ability to play a material role in their campaign. It’s one thing to play a passive role and not care, it’s another to play an active role and let the chips fall where they may.”

Unconventional wisdom: Mackowiak offers three pieces of advice. “First, understand how the media operates, what the rules of journalism are, what the pressures are that journalists feel so you have a reasonable expectation of what’s possible,” he said. “Those rules and those pressures are changing, so I always encourage people who work in communications to try and understand the media.” His second tip: Write. A lot. “The more opportunities you get to gain writing experience, the better,” he said. And third, hone your public speaking skills. “We’re heading into an uncertain future as it relates to AI,” he said. “It’s going to change a lot of things, but one of the things that’s not going to change is human-to-human interactions. Most professionals in PR and communications and political consultants miss out on opportunities to engage in public speaking on a regular basis. To me it’s a skill, and … you only get better and better and better with practice.”

Coming up

The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority conference kicks off Thursday with several Republican lawmakers addressing attendees on Capitol Hill, but the headliners arrive Friday at the Washington Hilton. Many of the Republican presidential hopefuls will be addressing the group on Friday and Saturday. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, will headline a political event Friday with supporters of abortion rights, including those from EMILY’s List, NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

Photo finish

At the December 2016 new member orientation, Delaware Rep.-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester reacts to drawing the No. 4 chip in the lottery for House office space. The Democrat said this week that she’s running for Senate, where the office space rules are different. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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