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At the Races: Prime time fault lines?

There’s no reason to think we will look back on Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate and think it changed the trajectory of the 2024 presidential race, or the down-ballot races for control of the House and Senate.

But the way the eight Republican candidates on the debate stage in Milwaukee, none of whom was named Donald Trump, addressed a few key issues might prove instructive if you’re preparing a candidate for Republican primary debates for the House and Senate later this cycle.

Candidates up and down the ballot should expect to hear a reprise of Fox News Channel moderator Brett Baier’s question about the “elephant not in the room” in which he asked whether those in attendance would support Trump as the Republican nominee even if one or more of his indictments results in a conviction first.

And on the foreign policy front, the big question was about ongoing funding for Ukraine. President Joe Biden requested $24.1 billion more to meet the needs for the first part of the next fiscal year. Several candidates expressed full support, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy coming under fire for suggesting that the priority should be securing the U.S.-Mexico border instead of helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wanted to see Europe provide more assistance.

The same can be said of the way the debate moderators and participants handled the question of whether to impose further restrictions on abortion at the federal level in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

As CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett noted Thursday morning, former Ambassador Nikki Haley responded to calls from former Vice President Mike Pence to enact a national law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy by saying there had to be a national consensus — and pointing to the reality of getting legislation passed in the Senate. Support for banning abortion is not unanimous even within the Senate Republican Conference, and getting to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster threat might be impossible.

“Consensus is the opposite of leadership,” Pence said, arguing that a 15-week ban had 70 percent support around the country. That argument could be challenged in some of the states where the battle for House control is likely to be most intense, including California and New York.

Starting gate

DMP is in: Former Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running to challenge GOP Sen. Rick Scott in Florida. She’s the likely front-runner for her party’s nomination in a state where Democrats hope to be competitive but Republicans had big wins last year. 

GOP diversity: Hispanic Republicans who span the ideological spectrum from the far right to the moderate middle are running to unseat Democratic incumbents in diverse districts from Pennsylvania to California. In recent years, the GOP has sought to bolster its recruitment of candidates with backgrounds and experiences that reflect the diversity of their districts — and counter its image as the party of white voters.

Sorry, gotta be in court: With multiple legal charges pending and a primary schedule looming, Trump could be facing some calendar clashes, CQ Roll Call’s Ryan Tarinelli reports.

ICYMI

Endorsement watch: The NewDem Action Fund endorsed former Michigan state Sen. Curtis Hertel for the open 7th District.

Is this seat taken?: The resignation next month of Utah Rep. Chris Stewart is not only fueling a competitive Republican primary, there’s also competition for his spot on the House Appropriations Committee, where CQ Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley reports the contenders include GOP freshman Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon, Chuck Edwards of North Carolina and Nick LaLota of New York.

Not so fast: Decision Desk HQ flags that former Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy told the FEC in July he was closing down his old campaign committee, then retracted that decision earlier this month and instead converted the account to a leadership PAC called the Senate Future Fund. Leahy started the year with more than $1 million in his account, but after making a series of $4,000 contributions in June to Democratic senators and Senate candidates — wonder if the check to “Elissa Slotken for Michigan” will clear? — donated $500,000 to the Vermont Community Foundation. 

Romney TBD: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney will make a decision “sometime this fall” whether to run for reelection, as other Republicans are weighing runs or already announced they will run, local television station KUTV reports

Inaugural endorsement: Leaders We Deserve, a new PAC supporting candidates under age 35 at the state and federal levels, made its first endorsement this week. The group is backing Democrat Averie Bishop, a 26-year-old Filipino American and former Miss Texas who is running for a legislative seat in the Lone Star State. 

Mystery solved?: Many commentators professed surprise that DeSantis was not attacked often in Wednesday’s debate and fellow Republican contenders went after Ramaswamy instead. But ahead of a crowded Democratic presidential debate four years ago, a top Chris Christie adviser discussed with Roll Call a strategy for denying a rival airtime by attacking someone else on the stage. “If Cory Booker wanted to keep Elizabeth Warren from getting a chance to speak, he could say, ‘This is an area where Amy Klobuchar and I disagree, or where Amy Klobuchar and I worked together,’ and then Klobuchar would get 30 or whatever seconds to respond,” effectively keeping Warren off the air, Christie adviser Mike DuHaime said.

2028 watch: Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a rising star within the Democratic Party, will deliver the keynote address at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s convention next month. “Gov. Shapiro knows how to win tough races and build strong coalitions across party lines in order to protect fundamental freedoms and deliver real results for working families,” said Meghan Meehan-Draper, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. “We’re excited to see him bring his winning record to New Hampshire.”

What we’re reading

Last resort: With the former president under indictment in four of the five National League East cities now, it’s worth remembering that inevitably the Supreme Court will get to weigh in and change everyone’s calculus. In that vein, it seemed timely to get a Congressional Research Service report this week laying out how the court has consistently reined in federal prosecutors’ efforts to bring corruption charges using a part of the criminal code Trump is not accused of violating.

Film controversy: A new documentary on the trailblazing life of former New York congresswoman Bella Abzug has sparked a conflict between the filmmaker and the daughter of the feminist icon, The New York Times reports.

Where to run: The ongoing legal fight over New York’s congressional map is slowing candidate recruitment in the state that Democrats view as crucial to winning back the House, Politico reports. While some high-profile candidates have already launched campaigns, they could find the district they’re running in doesn’t include their home or has a different political dynamic. 

Upstate trip: Speaker Kevin McCarthy was in upstate New York this week holding events with, and raising money for, vulnerable GOP incumbents there. The Syracuse Post-Standard notes that included an event Wednesday where he touted funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law and the competitiveness law, both of which he voted against.

People of faith: Religion News Service looks at how faith has shaped the lives of Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, two South Carolina Republicans seeking the presidential nomination. Scott, who is Black, and Haley, who is Asian American, are both Christians who need to win over the GOP’s evangelical base if they hope to edge out Trump and win the party’s endorsement.

The count: $342.6 million

That’s the combined value of 143 earmarks requested by House and Senate Republicans for fiscal 2024 in the three federal departments — Commerce, Education and Energy — that GOP presidential candidate DeSantis is promising to eliminate if elected. That total includes $22.3 million that would go to Florida from the spending bill covering the Commerce Department that the House Appropriations Committee released last month. The 11 Florida line items are in the budgets of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which are part of Commerce. NOAA requests range from $190,000 for a shark repellent study at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota sought by Rep. Greg Steube to Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar’s $3.3 million request for the University of Miami to expand reef restoration. The NIST grants range from $250,000 sought by Rep. John Rutherford for an atomic force microscope for the University of North Florida to Rep. Scott Franklin’s $4.5 million earmark for the University of Florida Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence in Wimauma. A request from Florida Rep. Laurel Lee — who has endorsed DeSantis, according to the tally maintained by FiveThirtyEight.com — would direct NIST to spend $2.4 million on bioengineering research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. Steube, Rutherford and fellow earmarkers Byron Donalds and Gus Bilirakis have rejected their home-state governor and endorsed Trump.

Nathan’s notes

The Iowa caucuses have a history of helping to winnow the field of Republicans running for president but often don’t pick the ultimate winner of the party’s nomination, Nathan writes this week. 

Key race: PA-01

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is a regular Democratic target, but he’s held on to his 1st District seat since he was first elected in 2016. A moderate, Fitzpatrick is one of 18 House Republicans defending a seat that Biden would have won in 2020.

Mark Houck, an anti-abortion activist, is challenging him from the right and has reportedly claimed that some House Republicans, including Freedom Caucus Chair and fellow Pennsylvanian Scott Perry, urged him to run. Houck has courted plenty of drama already, with a past interview about pornography coming to light since he filed to run earlier this month. Houck was acquitted earlier this year of federal charges around an incident outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. 

Primaries aren’t new for Fitzpatrick, who has regularly held off Republican challengers in the Bucks County district. He won renomination for the past three elections with about two-thirds of the vote. 

Fitzpatrick had $2.9 million on hand at the end of the second quarter of this year, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The NRCC “will not shy away from protecting our incumbents from primary challenges if necessary,” Jack Pandol, the group’s communications director, said in a statement. 

Democrats are watching the primary play out but included the 1st District in their initial list of districts in play next year. Ashley Ehasz, who lost to Fitzpatrick by nearly 10 points in 2022, is running again. She had $154,000 on hand at the end of June. 

An Army veteran and consultant, Ehasz has focused on abortion and labeled Fitzpatrick as anti-choice. 

Inside Elections rates the race as Likely Republican.

Coming up

Candidates in the special Sept. 5 primaries in Rhode Island’s 1st District and Utah’s 2nd District have until midnight tonight to file preelection fundraising and spending reports to the FEC.

Photo finish

Fox News anchor and moderator Martha MacCallum, right, looks on as fellow anchor and moderator Bret Baier speaks to a sometimes rowdy audience during the first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

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