Skip to content

At the Races: Colorado trip a Biden template?

By Niels Lesniewski and Daniela Altimari

President Joe Biden’s trip to Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District could be seen as a messaging test for 2024. The president will need to both sell achievements delivered by his agenda and lambast Republicans for opposing them.

The target this week was Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., whose narrow 2022 win and actions since then have landed her on our list of most vulnerable incumbents although she hails from a district that Biden lost by about 8 percentage points the last go-round.

“She’s one of the leaders of this extreme MAGA movement,” Biden said Wednesday in Pueblo, Colo., where he touted 850 jobs at a wind tower manufacturer. “She, along with every single Republican colleague, voted against the law that made these investments in jobs possible. And that’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.”

Dispatching the president to districts held by vulnerable GOP incumbents is not a surefire strategy, however. For one, the president’s approval ratings nationally are not good, sitting at 40 percent in one recent NBC News poll. In many states they’re much lower than that.

And with Biden, there’s always the risk that he will say something favorable about a Republican that the DCCC would rather he not. When he went to New York Rep. Mike Lawler’s Hudson Valley-based district back in March, the president said the Republican was “the kind of guy that when — when I was in the Congress, they’re the kind of Republican I was used to dealing with.” Biden added that Lawler’s “not one of these MAGA Republicans.”

The contours of Lawler’s reelection bid got somewhat more clear this week. Liz Whitmer Gereghty, the sister of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, suspended her Democratic primary campaign, backing former Rep. Mondaire Jones. 

“I am honored to have Liz’s endorsement and I am ready to work together to defeat Mike Lawler, who masquerades as a moderate on television but votes like an extreme MAGA Republican,” Jones said in a statement.

Biden’s taking Lawler off the MAGA list could still hurt him, though: He may be facing a GOP primary challenge from Bill Maloney, who worked in four federal agencies during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Starting gate

Exit update: Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a Southern California Democrat who helped turn the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus into a fundraising powerhouse but was twice thwarted in his effort to run the entire Democratic caucus campaign operation, won’t seek reelection. Also announcing plans to retire was Democratic Rep. Anna G. Eshoo from California’s Silicon Valley, colleague Ariel Cohen writes. And Valerie Yurk reports that Republican Rep. Bill Johnson has accepted a job as a college president in Youngstown, Ohio, and will be quitting the House early next year.

Southern California battlefield: An open House seat in coastal Orange County could determine which party controls the House. Republican Scott Baugh, who came within 3 points of ousting Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in 2022, is running again. With Porter running for Senate, Democrats are split between state Sen. Dave Min and community activist Joanna Weiss. Under California’s rules, the top two finishers in the March 5 primary, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on the November ballot.

McCarthy ponders future: Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he hasn’t decided yet whether to seek reelection next year, but based on what he said in New York on Wednesday, he seems to be considering all options.

Full House: At least for a fleeting moment, the whole number of the House reached 435 this week with the swearing-in of Rep. Celeste Maloy, R-Utah. Maloy prevailed in the special election to fill the seat opened by the departure of Rep. Chris Stewart, her former boss. Nick Eskow has more for Roll Call on the election results, while K. Sophie Will covered the swearing-in ceremony.

ICYMI

No suit for you: Throwing out a challenge in Arkansas, a divided federal appeals court said advocacy groups can’t file lawsuits under a section of the Voting Rights Act, Michael Macagnone reports. The case is likely headed to the Supreme Court.

About those PBM ads: Lauren Clason reports on PhRMA’s ad campaign trying to bring its fight about pharmacy benefit managers to the masses. Clason also looks at the career of the actor behind the ubiquitous ads. He’s not quite as ubiquitous as Flo from Progressive, who just got The New York Times magazine treatment, though.

Infrastructure Joe vs. Dark Brandon: Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett looks at Biden’s reelection strategy, which largely has the president’s top aides banking that voters will simply figure things out for themselves. “That, however, is risky in the social media era, and as certain ‘news’ networks push disinformation and conspiracy theories,” Bennett writes.

#IA01: Prayer breakfast organizer David Pautsch launched a Republican primary challenge to Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks because he considers her too often out of step with “biblical morality,” the Quad-City Times reports. Pautsch cited Miller-Meeks’ votes to recognize same-sex marriages and oppose Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan’s bid to be House speaker. 

Harper and Tlaib: Actor Hill Harper, a Democrat running for the open Senate seat in Michigan, confirmed on X a Politico report that he was offered $20 million in AIPAC-aligned campaign support to launch a primary challenge to Rep. Rashida Tlaib instead.

Charged: Two county supervisors in Cochise County, Ariz., were indicted this week for refusing to certify the 2022 election. A lawyer for one of them said the charges were political.

A million here, a million there: Silicon Valley executive Lexi Reese is dropping her long-shot bid for California’s open Senate seat. Reese, a Democrat, said she raised about $2 million, “which sounds like a lot of money until you compare it with the top competitors in the Senate race who have been serving in the House of Representatives for a collective 50+ years.” She noted that she invested $500,000 in her campaign, “which is a privilege I recognize most people do not have. It was also not nearly enough.” 

Phillips to leave Congress: Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., can officially be added to House “casualty” lists now that the long-shot primary challenger to Biden has announced he is not also seeking reelection to his House seat. “Seven years have passed, each presenting historic opportunities to practice a brand of optimistic politics that repairs relationships and improves people’s lives,” he said in a statement. “We have met those moments, and after three terms it is time to pass the torch.”

What Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s reading: A University of North Florida poll found 62 percent of voters said they would support a proposed amendment to protect abortion rights, Florida Politics reports.

Endorsement watch: Bill Clinton is backing Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s bid for mayor of Houston ahead of the Dec. 9 runoff election. The former president called Lee “a tireless advocate for Houston’s infrastructure, economic development, and prosperity for residents of all backgrounds,” the Houston Chronicle reports.

#VA10: Michelle Maldonado, a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, joined the increasingly crowded race for an open House seat in the 10th District. A former corporate attorney who founded a bipartisan technology caucus in the legislature, Maldonado is one of at least 10 Democrats and two Republicans competing to succeed Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who is not seeking reelection because of health concerns.

What we’re reading

Inside George Santos’ head: Former Newsday columnist Mark Chiusano first encountered George Santos in 2019, when the New York Republican was making his first run for Congress. “I wrote [a] little piece and he shared it on Facebook and in one parallel universe, this could have been the last I heard or wrote about the Queens newcomer,” Chiusano writes in TIME. Instead, it set Chiusano on an odyssey that took him from neighborhoods in Queens to a sauna in Brazil in a quest to unravel Santos’ many fabrications, which he chronicles in his new book, “The Fabulist.”

Polarization in the Evergreen State: Washington state has a long history of political independence, a place where voters chose the person, not the party, and political mavericks such as John B. Anderson and Ross Perot scored some of their highest vote totals. But that streak is fading, a new Crosscut/Elway poll found. “In a mark of how deeply political polarization has taken root here in historically moderate Washington, partisans of both parties consider the presumptive nominee of the other party to be a literal threat to the country,” pollster H. Stuart Elway writes.

GOP Infighting: Bridge Michigan looks at the internal divisions lashing the state Republican Party. The party’s chair, Kristina Karamo, recently removed critics from top committee posts in an effort to hang on to her job. 

“NYC Mayor’s woes are so bad even Andrew Cuomo is eyeing a run”: That’s the headline on this Bloomberg News piece examining the potential political fallout of the many controversies dogging Mayor Eric Adams. From an FBI raid at his campaign fundraiser’s home and a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault to questions about his handling of the migrant crisis and opposition to cuts to city services, Adams is facing challenges on multiple fronts.

The count: $850,600

That’s the maximum check donors can write to a new joint fundraising committee, Grow the Majority, set up by Speaker Mike Johnson that will share proceeds with campaign committees in 51 targeted districts and 20 state parties, as well as the NRCC, RNC, Johnson’s leadership PAC and campaign committee, and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC. The announcement by Team Johnson came on Nov. 20, the same day the NRCC filed a report showing it raised $5 million during October, a month consumed by the prolonged battle to pick a new speaker. The NRCC finished the month with $37.3 million, compared with $67.7 million at the same point in the last cycle, after raising $9.8 million in October 2021. The last time the NRCC raised less in an off-year October was in 2017, when the committee took in $4.5 million. Closing cash on hand on Oct. 31, 2017, however, was still higher than it was last month, at $40.8 million.

Nathan’s notes

The Iowa caucuses are still more than seven weeks away, but it looks like both parties will nominate presidential candidates who have high negatives. This is happening because they’re each choosing to focus only on what they see as good signs in the electorate and not potential problems, Nathan notes.

Shop talk: Marifer Zacarias

Zacarias is national engagement director at the DCCC. She also worked for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and served as deputy director of the White House Hispanic Initiative.

Starting out: Zacarias credits her mom with inspiring her to become an advocate. “I come from a single mother who is an educator,” she said. “We’re from El Paso … and seeing the lack of certain resources really propelled me to make sure that I was always advocating for — and always speaking to — the Latino community and to people of color. My career has always revolved around communities that are harder to reach and often overlooked, like my own.”

Her work at Planned Parenthood focused on Latinos, Black people, the LGBTQ community and other groups, “to make sure that we were talking about our health care services and educational campaigns in a way that was authentic to them and was culturally competent,” she said. “There are a lot of misconceptions … so it was important to be able to talk about it to our community. I saw that with my own family, the importance of how we talk about these sensitive issues such as abortion, reproductive rights, with a very Catholic Mexican household.” That work gave her experience with an issue that has come to dominate politics, she said. “I was able to put into practice and be able to explain and destigmatize and deconstruct these misconceptions, and that set the foundation for the work that I continue to do to this day.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: While working as senior adviser for Latino engagement at the DCCC during the midterms, Zacarias was part of the effort that elected the largest class of Hispanic Democrats to Congress. “That was an unforgettable feeling because you can’t be what you can’t see,” she said. “And representation really is instrumental to even me being here right now. So, when we talk about the policies that shape our future, we need people who represent our community in these positions of power.” She cites the 2022 win by Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician from Colorado who became the state’s first Latino House member. “I get goose bumps just to think about it,” she said.

Biggest campaign regret: “What I love about working on campaigns is that there’s always a learning moment,” Zacarias said. “There are so many challenges, and even moments that don’t necessarily go as planned [provide] a lesson. And so there’s not much regret in that sense because [those moments] build a stronger version of you.”

Unconventional wisdom: Find your crew. “As a young Latina, [I was] oftentimes the first to be in certain spaces, so identifying your people” is essential, she said. “[Build] a community that can really gut-check [so] you … can laugh through the hard moments.”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns whom we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Grow the Majority (see The Count above) holds a fundraiser Sunday in New York City, where Speaker Johnson is the headline guest with the state’s GOP delegation (minus Santos) as the special guests, according to an invitation obtained by Politico. “Hosts” who give $100,000 will get photo ops and seats at the head table. 

Photo finish

There may not be many Democrats looking for a photo op with the Republican House speaker, but things are different when the Capitol Christmas Tree was grown in your state — and you might be making a run for president relying on support from both parties. So there was West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, second from right, at the tree lighting ceremony Tuesday with, from left, West Virginia Republican Rep. Carol Miller; Speaker Mike Johnson and his wife, Kelly; fourth grader Ethan Reese, who won an essay contest about the tree; and West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team.

Recent Stories

Capitol Lens | Before sunset

Responding to US, France enshrines abortion access in constitution

‘One existential threat’: In shift, Biden gives Trump a tongue-lashing

Supreme Court tosses Colorado’s decision to bar Trump from ballot

Fiscal 2024 spending finale starts to take shape

Security fence to go up at Capitol for State of the Union