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At the Races: Bayou battles

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It’s been a busy season on the redistricting front, with Republican Rep. Garret Graves emerging as the apparent loser of the week.

Graves, a Louisiana Republican who won last cycle with 80 percent of the vote, would be redrawn into a majority-Black district under a new map adopted by the Louisiana state Senate on Wednesday.

Louisiana is required under a federal court order to draw a second Voting Rights Act opportunity district pursuant to a federal court order, with the clock ticking down as a special session of the state’s Legislature ends on Tuesday. A different map has been introduced in the state House, but with the Senate-passed plan having the governor’s backing it may be more likely to be enacted. 

As the Louisiana Illuminator explains, the map, which had the backing of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, opts to protect the districts of Speaker Mike Johnson and fellow GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, with Graves the likely odd man out. Johnson said on X he was “very concerned” about the map. He argued the current design “is constitutional” and if it isn’t, “there are multiple other map options that are legally compliant and do not require the unnecessary surrender of a Republican seat in Congress.”

State Sen. Cleo Fields, a Democrat who served two terms in Congress in the 1990s, could have the inside track on winning the seat if the new map becomes law. Fields himself has a good relationship with the Republican governor, as made clear in this January interview with Baton Rouge Public Radio. Graves backed Stephen Waguespack over Landry last year in the gubernatorial race.

There’s also news out of Wisconsin, where the law firm of prominent Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias is petitioning the Wisconsin Supreme Court to throw out the state’s current maps, as the Wisconsin State Journal reports. And of course, we’re still waiting on the new maps in New York.

Starting gate

Blue team angst: Democratic leaders in Congress tell Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett that President Joe Biden’s campaign needs stronger leadership, more diversity and a better plan to convince voters that he, and not GOP front-runner Donald Trump, is more focused on their finances and lives. Bennett and Jason Dick, our editor-in-chief, discussed what he’s hearing on this week’s Political Theater podcast.

Duncan heads for the exit: Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., is joining the ranks of the congressional retirees at the end of the 118th Congress next January. “At some point in a career, one needs to step aside and allow others to bring fresh ideas and abilities into the fight for liberty, just as I have,” the Energy and Commerce Committee member said in his announcement on Wednesday.

March for life: House Republicans teed up votes on two measures meant to signal support for pregnant women ahead of Friday’s annual March for Life, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman reports. The votes come after NRCC Chair Richard Hudson said GOP candidates should be more clear with voters about their position on abortion on the campaign trail, rather than ceding the issue to Democrats. 

ICYMI

Wolverine trifecta? Former Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party in 2019, launched an exploratory committee to consider running for Michigan’s open Senate seat, which already has two other former House members in the race. “I’ve been humbled in recent weeks by the many people who have urged me to run for Senate in Michigan and to do so by joining the Republican primary,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “They see what I see: contenders for the seat who are uninspired, unserious, and unprepared to tackle the chief impediment to liberty and economic prosperity—an overgrown and abusive government that strives to centralize power and snuff out individualism.” Former Reps. Mike Rogers and Peter Meijer are among the other contenders. 

Another NY special: Erie County Democrats chose state Sen. Tim Kennedy to run to replace Rep. Brian Higgins, who is expected to leave Congress next month. Kennedy is likely to be the favorite in a special election that Gov. Kathy Hochul will call within 10 days of the vacancy, but he is set to face competition in the Democratic primary for a full term. 

Calling the cops: No Labels, the centrist political organization that is seeking ballot access across the nation as it readies for a potential presidential campaign, is asking the Department of Justice to investigate its critics. At a news conference Thursday, the group alleged that an intimidation campaign against No Labels donors and supporters represents a threat to democracy. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I.-Conn., the group’s founding chairman, called it “no less than an attempt to knock the legs out from under American democracy. These alleged conspirators … are taking it upon themselves to … limit the choices of the American people on Election Day, as if the voters in America can’t be trusted. … This is anti-democratic, and it’s got to stop.” The group’s supporters say the normal protections on political speech aren’t applicable here because No Labels is not a political campaign but rather a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to the ballot.

CA SEN: A new poll by the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley found Rep. Adam B. Schiff with a narrow lead over his two fellow Democrats, Reps. Barbara Lee and Katie Porter, and Republican Steve Garvey in the race for California’s open Senate seat. Schiff had the support of 21 percent of those surveyed, with Porter at 17 percent, Garvey at 13 and Lee at 9. But crucially, 21 percent remain undecided. The top two finishers in the March 5 nonpartisan primary will appear on the November ballot.

Endorsement watch: The Los Angeles Times is backing Schiff, citing his role in the anti-Trump resistance and calling him “a battle-tested and thoughtful leader who has demonstrated he can rise to the moment.”

Crossing the Delaware: “I feel very secure knowing that he has no gold bars underneath his mattress and won’t ever be accused of being a foreign agent for Egypt or Qatar,” Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., said in endorsing Rep. Andy Kim in New Jersey’s Senate race. Fetterman has been the most outspoken member of the Senate about Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s indictment on charges of bribery and serving as an agent for a foreign government.

NY special: The Republican and Democratic House campaign arms both released ads for the special election to replace Rep. George Santos in New York’s 3rd District. The NRCC ad criticizes former Rep. Tom Suozzi, the Democratic candidate in the race, for votes on immigration policy he took while in Congress, while a DCCC ad says GOP candidate Mazi Pilip is part of the “extreme wing of the Republican Party.”

Primary fight: Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to Trump, told Cardinal News that Virginia GOP Rep. “Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him,” suggesting that the Trump camp could back a Republican challenger to the new House Freedom Caucus chair. Virginia state Sen. John McGuire recently campaigned with Trump in Iowa, while Good endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.  

Domenici launches run for #NMSEN: The daughter of New Mexico’s last Republican senator is launching a bid to take on one of the state’s current Democratic senators. Nella Domenici, a former chief financial officer at Bridgewater Associates and the daughter of the late Pete V. Domenici, is one of several Republicans hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

State House special: Florida Democrat Tom Keen flipped a state House seat in a special election this week, a win for Democrats in a state where they hope to force a competitive Senate race this year after Republicans won by large margins in 2022.

DWI revealed: Mike Lynch, the minority leader of the Colorado House of Representatives and a candidate for Congress in the 4th District, was arrested in 2022 on suspicion of drunken driving, according to previously unreleased police records obtained by The Denver Post. Lynch, who is vying in a crowded primary that includes Rep. Lauren Boebert after she switched districts, was also charged with possession of a firearm while intoxicated, the Post reported. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of driving while impaired and was sentenced to 18 months of probation. 

Polls are open: For reporters and editors credentialed through the Daily Press galleries of the House and Senate to choose two members of the Standing Committee of Correspondents. The four candidates include CQ Roll Call’s Briana Reilly. 

What we’re reading

Potholes mapped: Columnist David Winston looks at the Iowa caucus results and exit/entrance polls of caucusgoers to see potential problems for candidates this year who are not named Trump.

Baldwin on Biden: Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin doesn’t officially have a GOP opponent, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught up with her at a campaign event. Baldwin called on her fellow Democrats to do more to tout Biden’s accomplishments, which she says are “transformational.”

On the hot seat: What looked to be a mundane conference to review election practices repeatedly involved election administrators voicing concerns about voter distrust and conspiracies, Politico reports.

The count: $112 million

That’s the total amount that the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC and its affiliated nonprofit American Action Network say they raised last year. The groups can take unlimited amounts from donors, and AAN doesn’t disclose who gives it. CLF discloses its donors, and a big one is AAN. The groups, like their Democratic counterparts, are supposed to be independent but are allied with the House Republican leadership. A joint news release noted that since he got the gavel, Speaker Mike Johnson “was on eight CLF-related fundraising trips as a special guest, continuing a pace Kevin McCarthy made famous.” 

Nathan’s notes

Iowa’s caucuses did little to change the contours of the Republican presidential race, which is still Trump’s to lose, but it was a victory for the polling industry, Nathan writes. He also discussed the race and more on NPR this week.

Shop talk: Victoria McGroary

McGroary is the executive director of BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Before that, she worked on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2018 reelection effort, as well as for various campaigns at the state and local levels in Massachusetts. She also served as deputy political director of the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund.

Starting out: McGroary grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Philadelphia that wasn’t especially attuned to politics. Many of her relatives didn’t even vote. The exception was her mother, who was deeply engaged with the political process, McGroary said. Stepping into the voting booth as a kid with her mom, she felt the “profound responsibility and privilege that comes with voting. … It was private and it was secret but it was also sacred.” McGroary’s path to her present position was unconventional. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and while she was passionate about learning and enjoyed the research, the results of the 2016 election convinced her to look beyond academia. She had a bottle of champagne ready to toast the election of the first female president, but when Hillary Clinton lost the race, McGroary said she realized, “I can’t keep studying this stuff. I’ve got to get my hands dirty.” She was still finishing her dissertation when she started volunteering to help local candidates. “I submitted my dissertation, and I started working the next week on the City Council race in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” she recalled.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: By 2018, she was working for Warren’s campaign. It was the first congressional cycle after Trump’s 2016 victory, and on election night McGroary was in a ballroom watching the results come in. “And then CNN calls [the House] for Democrats, and the room just explodes,” she said. The 2022 election was equally memorable. She was working for BOLD PAC, helping Democrats such as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada win intensely competitive races. “We were bracing for this red wave,” she said, “and it didn’t come.” Instead, she added, all of the BOLD PAC-endorsed incumbents won and “we elected the largest [Congressional Hispanic Caucus] in history.”

Biggest campaign regret: McGroary was leading the get-out-the-vote operation for a high-profile special election for a state Senate seat in Massachusetts, and she planned to use the same strategy that had worked so well in that first City Council race. She presented her idea to a more senior man on the campaign team “and he basically shut it down,” she said, so she let it go and implemented his plan instead. The candidate wound up losing. “Obviously, every loss is disappointing, especially when you’re working hard,” she said. But she said she views each defeat as an opportunity to learn, and this one taught her to trust herself. “I was a young woman of color and I had this feeling, but I shut it down and I didn’t speak up,” she said. “So I learned that when your gut is telling you something, you have to listen.”

Unconventional wisdom: She believes that politics is “part art, part science and part luck” and campaigns are about “controlling the controllables. [That’s] at the core of the work you do as an operative,” she said. “You cannot control every single thing that’s going to happen.” Another lesson her experience has taught her: “Money’s important but money is not everything.” That came into play in 2022, when Oregon Democrat Andrea Salinas, who had been endorsed by BOLD PAC, prevailed in a crowded primary despite a deluge of super PAC money supporting one of her opponents. “We stayed the course and we kept doing the work and focused on controlling those controllables,” she said.

Coming up

The four leading contenders for California’s open Senate seat will participate in a televised debate Monday night. Democrats Lee, Porter and Schiff have faced one another before, but this is the first time Garvey, the former baseball great who is running as a Republican, will join the stage. The debate, which is co-hosted by Politico, Fox 11 Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for the Political Future, will begin at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time and stream on foxla.com

Photo finish

Dooley, a dachshund and official mascot for the office of South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan, who announced this week he will retire after this term, walks down the House steps after a vote on Oct. 21, 2021. Dooley was named after former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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