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At the Races: While TV was watching NH

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Donald Trump and Joe Biden both vanquished their competition in New Hampshire, but down-ballot races are also heating up. And at a series of debates this week, both Trump’s and Biden’s presence loomed large.

In Ohio on Monday, three Republicans running in the March 19 primary for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown wasted no time trying to out-Trump one another. Businessman Bernie Moreno has Trump’s endorsement, a fact he mentioned repeatedly during the debate. Secretary of State Frank LaRose pledged to stand with Trump, while state Sen. Matt Dolan, who has in the past sought to put some distance between himself and the former president, boasted that he’s the only candidate in the race who’s enacted Trump policies.

In Alabama on Wednesday, Trump was praised and Biden was attacked at a forum between Reps. Barry Moore and Jerry Carl, two Republican incumbents who will face one another March 5 in the newly drawn 1st District. Carl dismissed Biden as a weak president incapable of standing up to China. And Moore, when asked what was more important, stopping Russia in Ukraine or Hamas in Israel, said, “The most important thing is reelecting Donald Trump.” 

Yet not every Republican was eager to discuss Trump. In California on Monday night, the three Democrats vying for the state’s open Senate seat highlighted their anti-Trump credentials while the lone Republican on the debate stage, former major league baseball player and political rookie Steve Garvey, sought to dodge questions about his support for Trump. That primary, where the top two candidates regardless of party advance to the November ballot, is also March 5.

While Garvey said Trump was “the best person for the job” in 2016 and 2020, the former Los Angeles Dodgers infielder declined to say whether he would back Trump this year and accused the Democrats of “trying to paint me into the corner, trying to call me MAGA.”

Starting gate

Abortion rights pitch: Standing in front of a giant banner emblazoned “RESTORE ROE” in all capital letters, the president and the vice president hit the campaign trail Tuesday in Northern Virginia to highlight their advocacy for abortion rights, which CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman reports from Manassas will be a key theme of the 2024 campaign. Raman and colleague Ariel Cohen also highlight how Republicans are no longer focusing on federal abortion bans on the campaign trail and leading GOP candidates are hedging on the issue.

Messaging advice: Our colleague John T. Bennett has been asking Republicans on Capitol Hill what they want Trump to focus on in his 2024 campaign. Their message? The former president would be best suited to hammer on immigration and the economy, reprising issues from his 2016 campaign. That’s opposed to focusing on, say, baseless accusations about Biden stealing the 2020 election.

On the assembly line: Biden picked up the endorsement of the United Auto Workers, at an event where the union’s president harshly disparaged Trump’s claim to be the candidate for the American worker, CQ Roll Call’s Valerie Yurk reports.

Armstrong for governor: As the only House member from North Dakota, Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong has already won statewide, and now he’s running for governor. The incumbent, former long-shot presidential candidate Doug Burgum, announced Monday that he would not seek another term, and Armstrong followed up with a gubernatorial campaign announcement on Tuesday. The Associated Press identifies potential candidates for the at-large House seat.

On the radar: On this week’s Political Theater podcast, Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick and Politics Editor Herb Jackson go over the stories they’ll be watching this year from the House, Senate and presidential races, plus the courts and a wild-card choice.

NH primary review: Members of Congress flocked to New Hampshire last weekend ahead of the state’s primary, with Hill Republicans like Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Elise Stefanik campaigning for Trump, while Democratic Reps. Ann McLane Kuster and Ro Khanna urged voters to write in Biden’s name. After Trump’s victory Tuesday, his support on Capitol Hill grew.

ICYMI

First in ATR: ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising platform, shared first with CQ Roll Call that small-dollar donors gave $353 million through the platform in the fourth quarter of last year, a 24.7 percent increase in total dollars raised for House races and a 32.2 percent increase in dollars raised for Senate races compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, which was also ahead of a presidential year. “The grassroots community helped Democrats protect ground and secure meaningful state and local victories ahead of the presidential election year,” Regina Wallace-Jones, ActBlue’s president and CEO, said in a statement. 

Chairman out: Arizona GOP Chairman Jeff DeWit resigned Wednesday after Senate candidate Kari Lake released what DeWit said was a “selectively edited audio recording” of a private discussion in which Lake was offered a job if she would abandon a run for Senate. The Arizona Republic has all the details of the controversy around the offer, which Lake and her supporters view as a bribe.

Chairman in: Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra says, “I think it will only be a matter of time” before he is recognized as the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. In an interview with Fox 2 in Detroit, Hoekstra cites support from Trump. Former Chair Kristina Karamo has claimed she hasn’t been removed from the post, leading to legal action, as The Associated Press reports.

Kucinich for Congress: Former Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich announced Wednesday that he was running for Congress as an independent in Ohio’s 7th District. “I represented over 20 Cuyahoga County communities in this district for 16 years, constituting approximately 45 percent of the present district.” Kucinich said. Republican incumbent Max Miller won the seat in 2022 with over 55 percent of the vote. Most recently Kucinich worked as a campaign manager to presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Lee’s war chest: Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee raised over $1 million in the fourth quarter of last year, she announced. The freshman Democrat is expected to face opposition from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose affiliated super PAC also spent heavily against her in a Democratic primary last cycle. 

She’s running: Demi Kouzounas, a former chair of the Maine Republican Party, launched a campaign to challenge Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. Kouzounas said Maine Sen. Susan Collins encouraged her to enter the race, and that it was important for Republicans to have a candidate in the race. The Bangor Daily News, meanwhile, looks at the fraying relationship between King and Collins. 

Menendez family: New Jersey Rep. Rob Menendez announced endorsements from the top three House Democratic leaders: Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine M. Clark and Pete Aguilar. Menendez is facing a challenge from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla as his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, is fighting federal bribery charges. Just this week, the elder Menendez challenged five search warrants that the government used to put together their case against him, arguing the warrants were too broad, as Chris Marquette reports. The Washington Post also chronicled the senator’s rise in a profile this week as he faces his second federal indictment. 

Music and voting: Includus Fund, a nonprofit organization that promotes diversity and inclusion, and LENUSA, a live music agency, are teaming up with regional Mexican and Latino musicians to launch a $10 million voter mobilization effort. The campaign will include paid media, voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote concerts in key states with large Latino populations, including Arizona, California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

What we’re reading

On the opinion pages: Stu Rothenberg reacts to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exiting the presidential race and endorsing Trump by going back over his assessment nearly a year ago of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s chances. David Winston analyzes what the New Hampshire results say about the divided Republican Party. And Mary C. Curtis looks at the current landscape through the lens of a 2004 speech by a then-obscure state legislator in Illinois named Barack Obama.

Texas tangle: The Dallas Morning News’ Joe Morton looks at the three-way Democratic race for the nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Ted Cruz and quotes state Sen. Roland Gutierrez rapping front-running Rep. Colin Allred for promoting bipartisanship. “No amount of bipartisan hand-holding or trying to sound like a Republican is going to make them like you more or make them vote for you, because they’re not,” Gutierrez said.

Out: Mike Lynch, the GOP leader of the Colorado House and a candidate for Congress, stepped down from his leadership post this week after narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence following news that he had been charged with driving while intoxicated in 2022. The Denver Post, which broke the story of Lynch’s arrest, reports that the embattled lawmaker isn’t resigning and there’s no sign that he’s dropping his congressional bid.

Narrow majorities and fragile coalitions: NBC News digs into the archives to examine the history of a closely divided Congress. 

Social media star: The Texas Tribune catches up with Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a progressive Democrat from Dallas whose penchant for going viral has thrust her into the spotlight.

The count: 42,303

That’s the minimum number of valid signatures — compared with 6,556 for a Democrat or 7,072 for a Republican — that Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema would have to gather from independent Arizona voters by April 8 to get on the ballot, according to the latest figures from the secretary of state using vote registration totals on Jan. 2. Sinema has not filed the candidacy statement required before she can start gathering names, the Arizona Republic reports. And experts tell the Republic she’ll probably need to collect many more than the minimum because of the potential for signature challenges. The longer she waits to get started, a cost now estimated at between $500,000 and $1 million could grow as high as $4 million.

Nathan’s notes

The Republican Party’s ostracism of Nikki Haley as she became the last Republican standing against Trump ignores that he won’t be in charge forever, and when the next generation takes over, she still will be one of the party’s most accomplished women who also happens to be a person of color, Nathan writes.

Key race: #NC06

Candidates: Former Rep. Mark Walker is seeking a comeback, but the former three-term congressman must win a six-way primary in March to win his party’s nomination. He faces Bo Hines, who lost to Rep. Wiley Nickel in the 13th District two years ago, as well as lobbyist Addison McDowell, former High Point Mayor Jay Wagner, retired Army Lt. Col. Christian Castelli, who lost to Manning in 2022, and physician Mary Ann Contogiannis. No Democrats filed to run here after Rep. Kathy Manning said she wouldn’t seek reelection.

Why it matters: North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature redrew the state’s congressional map again last year, and Republicans are now favored to win as many as 11 of the state’s 14 districts. The 6th District is among three districts currently held by Democrats that Trump would have easily won in 2020, making the March 5 primary the biggest contest of the year for this district.

Cash dash: Year-end reports are due next week, but Hines had raised the most money, $126,000, through the end of September and had only $20,000 on hand, while Castelli had $63,000 on hand. Walker had $801 on hand at the end of the third quarter. Contogiannis had $9,465 on hand, most of it left over from an earlier race, and had raised only $1,000 through Sept. 30. Wagner and McDowell didn’t launch their campaigns until the fourth quarter. 

Backers: Trump endorsed McDowell, while the conservative Club for Growth backed Hines and has put $370,000 into the race for ads against Walker already, The News & Observer of Raleigh first reported. Awake Carolina reported spending $145,000 on mailings supporting Walker.  

What they’re saying: Several of the candidates have focused on securing the border as the campaign picks up. McDowell has made it personal, talking about how his brother died of a fentanyl overdose. He has also emphasized Trump’s endorsement. Still, Hines has shown a photo of himself and Trump together in his own ads, which have also focused on the southern border. Castelli launched two television ads this week introducing himself as a former Green Beret and political outsider. Walker has emphasized his conservative credentials and time as a pastor before being elected to Congress. He has touted support from law enforcement officials and other Republicans. 

Terrain: Trump would have won the newly drawn district, which includes Davidson, Davie and Rowan counties, by 16 points in 2020. Inside Elections rates the race in November as Likely Republican. 

Wild card: Walker represented a previous version of the 6th District and has been looking for a political comeback since retiring in 2021. He placed third in the GOP Senate primary in 2022 and was running for governor before changing course last year after the state’s new map was approved in October. The campaign will also test the power of Trump’s endorsement versus the Club for Growth, an organization that has historically feuded with him. McDowell has previously worked for members of the North Carolina delegation, including Rep. Richard Hudson, the NRCC chair. The race will proceed to a runoff on May 14 if no candidate wins 30 percent of the vote. 

Coming up

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan heads to Alabama this weekend, where he’s set to campaign on Saturday with Rep. Barry Moore ahead of his member-against-member primary battle with fellow Republican Jerry Carl. Moore and Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, will appear together at a “Never Stop Fighting — America First Rally” in Robertsdale. 

Photo finish

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