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At the Races: Garden State of chaos

The conversation around next year’s Senate races has so far focused on fewer than a dozen states that will determine the chamber’s balance of power, plus a few more seats where retirements will pave the way for a new member.

New Jersey has now elbowed its way into the discussion.

After Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted Friday and pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to federal bribery charges, his future in the Senate, where he’s served since 2006, is up in the air. Besides saying, “I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez didn’t directly address his reelection plans when he told reporters Monday he expects to be exonerated, but a majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate called for him to resign. 

Rep. Andy Kim has already launched a challenge to Menendez, a move he said was “deeply unexpected.” But he may not have the campaign to himself. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee who lost a Democratic primary for the state’s 2013 Senate special election, could throw his name into the mix, reports. Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, has also been named as a potential successor, according to Politico. Other members of the state’s House delegation could also launch their own campaigns.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the race rating to Likely Democratic.

Menendez’s indictment isn’t the first to shake politics this year. Freshman New York Democratic Rep. George Santos was indicted on 13 charges earlier this year, and former President Donald Trump has been indicted four times. Santos himself has said Menendez should not resign. 

But some Democrats are trying to draw a difference in how they responded to a member of their party being indicted.

“Look what happens. Democrats are not complaining about prosecutions. They’re not complaining about holding anybody accountable,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who is up for reelection in Virginia next year. 

Starting gate

Bipartisan Joe? President Joe Biden’s in Arizona on Thursday to announce federal funding for a new John McCain Library, and his reelection campaign has a new ad featuring photos with an assortment of GOP luminaries of yore, including the late Arizona senator for whom the library will be named as well as President Ronald Reagan.

Sweet home Alabama: The Supreme Court declined to intervene again in the fight over Alabama’s congressional map. An expert appointed by a lower court proposed several new map options this week, each of which would add a second majority-minority district in the state, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports.

Walking the line: “Union Joe” Biden joined striking workers at an auto parts plant in Michigan this week, while Trump went to a parts plant to counterprogram Wednesday night’s debate, CQ Roll Call’s Valerie Yurk reports.

Placing blame: The looming government shutdown garnered only a couple of minutes during the two-hour Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used their time discussing it to put some of the blame on the rival who wasn’t there, Trump, CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett reports.

Save the date: The three House Democrats running for Senate in California — Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff — will answer questions from reporters at a meeting of the National Union of Healthcare Workers on Oct. 8 in Los Angeles. Roll Call is a co-host with Courage California, and our health team reporter Sandhya Raman will be on the panel along with Melanie Mason of Politico and Benjamin Oreskes of the Los Angeles Times. Lisa Matthews of The Associated Press, a former president of the National Press Club, will moderate. Roll Call will carry the NUHW’s livestreams in English and Spanish, and union stewards in attendance and members who watch online will vote afterward on an endorsement that will be announced Oct. 12.

Taylor ham and politics: If you haven’t had enough of Menendez, editor-in-chief Jason Dick let politics editor Herb Jackson open a vein about the characters he’s covered in New Jersey on this week’s Political Theater podcast. There was also discussion of pork-based breakfast meat.


Lake announces announcement: Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona last cycle who has been a frequent surrogate for Trump, plans to launch a Senate bid on Oct. 10, The Wall Street Journal reports

Endorsement watch: Brady PAC endorsed Democrat Emily Busch in Michigan’s 10th District.

Committing the dollars: Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he was giving the NRCC $2.5 million at Thursday’s conference meeting, a source familiar said, while House Majority Leader Steve Scalise announced another $1 million.

Campaign launch: Maine state Rep. Austin Theriault, a former NASCAR driver, launched a campaign to challenge Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in the 2nd District. He joins businessman Robert Cross and fellow state Rep. Michael Soboleski in a Republican primary. 

What’s in a name: Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who’s running for governor of New Hampshire, announced an endorsement from Tom Brady this week. Of course, that’s referring to Coos County Commissioner Thomas Brady, who, along with two other members of the North Country commission, endorsed Ayotte. No word yet on who the other Tom Brady thinks should be the Granite State’s next executive. 

Ohio endorsements: Their Future PAC, which champions candidates who back efforts to address climate change, gun violence and children’s mental health, has made its first endorsement of the 2024 election cycle. The group is supporting Rep. Greg Landsman, a Democrat running for reelection in Ohio’s 1st District. Landsman’s GOP challenger, Orlando Sonza, recently picked up the endorsement of Sen. J.D. Vance.

Primary loading: Republican Joe Kent is seeking a rematch with Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez in Washington’s 3rd District. Fellow Republican Leslie Lewallen, a former prosecutor and member of the Camas City Council, also formally kicked off her campaign last weekend. Washington’s primaries pick the top two candidates, regardless of party, for the November ballot. 

From aide to rival: Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, has a new Republican challenger: his former district director, Jose Sanz. According to The Texas Tribune, Sanz decided to get into the race after realizing that his “values and beliefs” did not align with Cuellar’s.  

Shutdown ads: Courage for America, a Democratic advocacy group, is running a six-figure ad campaign this week in 13 House districts criticizing a range of Republicans for a potential partial government shutdown. The group is running digital ads in D.C. and on ABC’s “Good Morning America” targeting party leaders such as Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York and NRCC Chairman Richard Hudson of North Carolina, as well as members like Anthony D’Esposito of New York and Eli Crane of Arizona. Meanwhile, the group Unrig Our Economy launched a $400,000 ad buy in Nebraska’s 2nd District urging Rep. Don Bacon not to support a shutdown.

Logan’s rerun: Republican George Logan, who came close to unseating Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th District, is planning to run again. Logan will announce his campaign on Monday. Former ESPN anchor Sage Steele is reportedly weighing a run as well.

What we’re reading

Party switching: Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson holds a nonpartisan office, but he is switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. “With my change in party affiliation, I recognize that the number of Republican mayors leading the nation’s 10 largest cities has increased from zero to one,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “This is hardly a red wave. But it is clear that the nation and its cities have reached a time for choosing.”

Security spending: Campaign spending on security for House and Senate candidates grew by more than 500 percent from the 2020 election to the 2022 elections, a Washington Post analysis found. 

The good life: The Washington Post caught up with a few former senators who have traded quorum calls and floor debates for hiking Camelback, sailing to Newfoundland and giving speeches to college students. None of the retired lawmakers is calling on the current crop of geriatric senators to step aside, but former California Sen. Barbara Boxer says there is life after the Senate, “and it’s good.”

The count: 53 percent

That’s the percentage of Republican voters who described Trump as a “person of faith,” according to a new poll by HarrisX for the Deseret News. Among Democrats, Biden topped the list of public figures who are people of faith, while unaffiliated voters viewed Sen. Mitt Romney as the most devout. Former Vice President Mike Pence, whose faith forms a core part of his public identity, was statistically tied with Trump, who rarely discusses his religion.

Nathan’s notes

Time is relative, and to show how, Nathan L. Gonzales turns to sports. The Iowa caucuses that seem just around the corner will actually happen after the college football season, which seems like it just started, is over. So viewing it that way, do struggling candidates have all kinds of time? And in an At the Races twofer, Nathan also took a look at possible running mates for Trump in a column posted after last week’s newsletter.

Shop talk: Lauren Garrett

Garrett is campaign manager for Gabe Amo, the Democratic nominee for an open House seat in Rhode Island. Garrett previously ran Rep. Sharice Davids’ 2022 reelection campaign and is an alum of the DCCC and DSCC.

Starting out: In the summer of 2012, while on break from college, Garrett landed a job as a political organizer with President Barack Obama’s campaign in the Florida Panhandle. “That was where I got my very first experiences with managing volunteers, direct voter contact and the fundamentals of the field, and I really liked it,” she recalled. “That was also where I learned that this was a career path.” She had an opportunity to work for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in Pennsylvania but opted to finish up her studies instead because she believed Clinton would win. “And then Election Day didn’t go the way we wanted it to go,” she said. It’s not that she thought she could have single-handedly delivered Pennsylvania for the Democrats. “I don’t want something like this to happen again and know within myself that I did nothing to prevent it. So that changed things for me.” Garrett returned to her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and worked for a progressive mayoral candidate as well as Doug Jones’ Senate campaign before overseeing a legislative race in Virginia and running Davids’ campaign in Kansas’ 3rd District.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Over the summer, Garrett and her team in Rhode Island were searching for ways to set Amo apart from his Democratic competitors in a crowded primary. They organized a series of informal coffee shop gatherings and invited people who lived within 5 miles of the cafe. She received a few RSVPs and said she’d consider it a success if five voters showed up. The first meeting drew 20 people, a big turnout for a largely unknown candidate running in an off-cycle special election. “I remember my comms director looking at me and saying we could win this, and I was like, ‘Maybe we can,’” she said.

Biggest campaign regret: “When I was still new to managing, I had all these ideas in my head about what a campaign manager does. And I think a lot of those ideas were just wrong,” she said. The first campaign she managed, for a candidate for Virginia’s House of Delegates, came up short — but “losing that race was probably the best thing that could have happened,” she said. Running a campaign, she’s come to realize, largely consists of “using your skills to make sure things stay on course and, if there is a conflict, resolving it and being able to make decisions fast and keep things moving,” she said.

Unconventional wisdom: Early in the Rhode Island race, she told Amo to screen out the noise and stay focused on his campaign. “What’s most important here is that we run a race that we can be proud of and we make decisions that we feel good about, regardless of what anybody else does,” she said. Paraphrasing Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Garrett said, “you don’t let your opponent determine how hard you work.”

Coming up

There’s still time to make resolutions for the new fiscal year that starts Sunday, but it’s not looking like many federal workers will be popping corks on Saturday night.

Photo finish: Jersey Boys

Sen. Bob Menendez, left, was in the middle of his trial on bribery charges (which did not result in a conviction) in October 2017 when he returned to Washington for a Foreign Relations Committee meeting and got a public hug of support from fellow New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. This week, after a new indictment again accused Menendez of bribery, Booker called for Menendez to resign. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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