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At the Races: Riding in a getaway car

Corrected 3:45 p.m. | 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.

With temperatures projected to rise to nearly 100 degrees in Washington, D.C., lawmakers are set to get out of town at the end of this week for the annual August recess. 

As CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa wrote this week, Congress didn’t start leaving town for August because of the harsh humidity; it was an effort in the 1960s to help lawmakers balance family life.

The time back in their districts gives lawmakers an opportunity for hand-shaking and parade marching as the presidential primaries are set to pick up, with the first Republican debate in just under a month. While it’ll be months before some members have official challengers, they can start honing their reelection messages while back home.

House Democrats, for instance, plan to talk about expanded veterans health benefits and the ongoing effort (led by President Joe Biden) to reduce “junk fees,” Rep. Joe Neguse, the Colorado Democrat who leads the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said Wednesday.

Neguse said the GOP majority has had “no bills on lowering in health care costs, on addressing inflation, on growing the middle class, on raising wages on school safety, none. Instead, we’re left with hearings on gas stoves, three hearings on gas stoves, a bill this week on the long-eared bat.”

The recess also pauses House Republicans’ efforts to advance spending bills ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline for government funding. The divisions within the Republican Party were on display this week as lawmakers appeared poised to pass a measure focused on military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but an agriculture bill appeared in danger of not making it to the floor. 

Spending bills will be a top priority when Congress returns in September, but there may be other politically charged issues for members to grapple with. There could be another indictment of former President Donald Trump, while discussion of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden or impeachment of another top member of his administration is growing. 

Happy recess!

Starting gate

Lining up: Alabama’s decision to not do what federal courts said it should is one of many indications that it may be premature to predict how new district lines will affect the race for the House next year, Mary Ellen and Michael Macagnone write in a rundown of where cases in numerous states stand.

#NHGOV: Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte announced she is running for governor of New Hampshire, her first foray back into electoral politics since narrowly losing a 2016 reelection race. 

#MDSEN: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks is focusing on her experience leading one of Maryland’s largest counties, as well as her personal biography, in her bid to become Maryland’s next senator. 

Other white meat: As a group of House conservatives demand deeper cuts to fiscal 2024 spending bills, CQ Roll Call’s Peter Cohn and Herb Jackson laid out the nearly $123 million in earmarks that five of them got in pending measures, and how the House GOP dominated the earmark list so thoroughly that the only Democrats in the top 100 were three members who co-sponsored line items with Republican colleagues.

Age-old questions: Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, the oldest member of the House at 86, announced she wasn’t seeking reelection, but other octogenarians in Congress have yet to publicly disclose their plans, including some who have become very familiar nationally.

Standoff: After House Republicans unveiled a package of voting and election law changes to address voter concerns about fraud, Senate and House Democrats rallied around a countermeasure that they couldn’t pass in the last Congress when they controlled both chambers, CQ Roll Call’s Justin Papp writes.

ICYMI

Endorsement watch: Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat running for Senate, picked up the support of the labor-backed California Working Families Party, which called her a “progressive legend.” The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, meanwhile, said it is backing 85 Democratic incumbents; House candidates Raquel Teran in Arizona’s 3rd District, Kirsten Engel in Arizona’s 6th, George Whitesides in California’s 27th and Will Rollins in California’s 41st; and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s bid for Senate in Delaware. 

Striking back at Tuberville: VoteVets, a progressive group that advocates for veterans issues, has a new digital ad critical of Alabama GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s decision to hold up senior military promotions because he objects to the Pentagon’s abortion policies. The ad features Democratic Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, all of whom have military or national security backgrounds. 

Sinema not getting ahead of 2024: At a Monday town hall hosted by the United States Hispanic Business Council, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema suggested it was far too early to think about running for reelection. “I’ve got a lot of unfinished business. And it won’t surprise you to know that I’m just gonna stay focused on it. And I know there’s a lot of folks out there thinking about the next election. And for some of the people in this room, the next election probably feels really close. But to regular Arizonians, to regular Americans, the election is really far away,” the independent senator said.

Open seat: The race for Maryland’s 6th District is taking shape, with Joel Rubin, a former Obama administration official and Jewish organizer, announcing his campaign this week. The LGBTQ+ Victory Fund endorsed Joe Vogel in the race on Thursday. More candidates could still run for the open seat currently held by Rep. David Trone, who is running for Senate. 

Let the ad wars begin: Three of the Democrats running in the special election to fill Rhode Island’s open 1st Congressional District seat began airing TV ads this week. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and former White House official Gabe Amo debuted spots that emphasize their humble beginnings. Meanwhile, former state legislator Aaron Regunberg’s first commercial stars Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who announced Thursday that he’s backing Regunberg.

Deadline, shmedline: Missouri Rep. Cori Bush reported total receipts of $158,000 during the second quarter, spent $203,000 and finished on June 30 with $24,000 on hand. We’ll wait to see if the Democrat will need some of that for any penalty assessed by the Federal Election Commission for filing her disclosure on Saturday, a week past the July 15 deadline.

What we’re reading

Done deal?: There are people running against Biden and Trump for the Democratic and Republican nominations, but they pose no threat, Stu Rothenberg writes

Or not?: Walter Shapiro lays out some events that could “upend the glib calculus about 2024.”

‘The congressman was a crack addict’: Former Rep. Bobby Schilling was a hardworking father of 10 who owned a pizza parlor. But the Republican from Illinois was also harboring a secret, his son told the Telegraph-Herald of Dubuque, Iowa. Schilling was addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol in the 1980s. A hospital-based treatment program, along with Narcotics Anonymous and his Catholic faith, helped him get clean years before his election to Congress in 2010. Schilling, who served for one term, died of cancer in 2021 at the age of 57.

The political is personal: Former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen opens up to The Washington Post  about her campaign to convince her fellow Republicans to stop targeting transgender people. Ros-Lehtinen’s son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, came out as trans when he was in college.   

The parachute: Given the number of members (see above) with longtime service who might decide not to run again, was it just a coincidence that the Congressional Research Service released an update this week on its analysis of retirement benefits for members of Congress?

The count: 21 percent

That’s the share of contested Senate votes from 2011 through 2016 on which New Hampshire’s Ayotte voted with a majority of Democrats rather than her fellow Republicans, according to CQ vote studies. Ayotte, who lost reelection by one-tenth of a percentage point, was a senator for 1,027 votes on which majorities of each party lined up on opposite sides. She voted with the GOP on 804, voted with the Democrats on 214 and missed nine. The only Republicans in the Senate for all six of those years who disagreed with their party more often were Mark S. Kirk of Illinois (25 percent), Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (40 percent) and Susan Collins of Maine (51 percent).

Nathan’s notes

Who doesn’t love a parade, especially in a solidly red Indiana county with an open House seat? Nathan L. Gonzales was in Monroe, Ind. — a “sea of corn and soybeans not far from the Ohio border” — and has a rundown of the candidates who showed up, and didn’t, for the Adams County 4H Fair parade in Rep.-turned-Senate-candidate Jim Banks’ 3rd District. For a bonus, Nathan shared where to get cheap gas if you’re driving to Indiana on his team’s podcast last week.

Key race: Ohio Senate

Sen. Sherrod Brown is one of three Democrats representing states that Donald Trump won twice and, along with Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, he’s a top Republican target.

The GOP field looking to unseat Brown features state Sen. Matt Dolan, entrepreneur Bernie Moreno and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. The three candidates are in attack mode: Moreno’s campaign denounced LaRose as a career politician and LaRose struck back, branding Dolan and Moreno as “insufficiently conservative.”

The race could test Trump’s political power. The former president encouraged Moreno to run but has not formally endorsed a candidate. Meanwhile, LaRose, who once criticized Trump’s assertions that the 2020 election was marked by widespread voter fraud, announced that he’s backing Trump’s bid to reclaim the presidency. 

Democrats view Brown’s reelection as essential to holding the Senate majority. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Battleground.

Brown, who is in his third term, raised $5 million in the second quarter of 2023 and had $8.7 million in the bank. Moreno, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2022 primary, raised $2.3 million and had $1.5 million on hand. Dolan raised $1.3 million and had $3.9 million, after loaning the campaign $4 million of his own money so far this year. LaRose entered the race after the filing deadline.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released earlier this month suggested LaRose is the most competitive of the Republican challengers, putting him in a statistical dead heat with Brown.  

Nearly 51 percent approve of Brown’s job performance, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Coming up

With 13 presidential candidates signed up for the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Day dinner in Des Moines on Friday, an advisory from the party not only includes a list of prohibited items (no toasters?), it says the 10-minute time limit for speeches will be enforced by having the microphone shut off automatically.

Photo finish

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This report has been corrected to reflect that the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund endorsed Joe Vogel.

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