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At the Races: If I can make it there . . .

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The White House was eager to tout the win by Democrat Tom Suozzi in Tuesday’s New York special election in Queens and on Long Island as evidence of support for President Joe Biden’s agenda on both border security and foreign policy spending.

“The results are unmistakable. And right now, House Republicans are yet again putting politics ahead of national security — siding with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Tehran, against America’s defense industrial base, against NATO, against Ukraine, and against our interests in the Indo-Pacific,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Wednesday. “Tom Suozzi was clear about this choice in his campaign as well, siding with President Biden.”

Last week, as our Caroline Coudriet reports, Republicans urged on by presidential front-runner Donald Trump forced the Senate to jettison immigration provisions of the national security supplemental spending bill that ultimately passed the chamber 70-29 early Tuesday morning, as Briana Reilly reports. Biden reacted by saying he would be “taking this issue to the country,” but Suozzi was already doing that in New York to counter border-focused Republican attacks by nominee Mazi Malesa Pilip and party committees and super PACs backing her.

Suozzi’s big victory will do nothing to dissuade the president or his campaign from that strategy, even though the president and his party’s nominee did not appear together during the campaign.

Whether the strategy will prove successful on either policy (by convincing enough House Republicans to join Democrats to bypass Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on the supplemental) or politics (at the ballot box in November) remains to be seen. Trump brushed aside the loss, blasting Pilip as a “very foolish woman” while calling for a “real candidate in the district for November.” 

House leaders praised her, however, and pointed their focus on how the district performed in 2020, seeming to forget expelled Rep. George Santos’ 8-point victory there in 2022.  

“Mazi Pilip is a fighter with a bright future within the Republican Party. This was an uphill battle. Joe Biden won this district by 8 points, Democrats outspent Republicans two-to-one, and our Democrat opponent spent decades representing these New Yorkers — yet it was still a dogfight,” NRCC Chairman Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said in a statement Thursday. “Republicans still have multiple pathways to grow our majority in November.”

For more on the race, Mary Ellen joined Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin on this week’s Political Theater podcast, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick. It should be posted this afternoon on the show’s page on Roll Call’s website and youtube.com.

Starting gate

Presidential PR: John T. Bennett writes that Biden’s rather unexpected news conference last week could offer clues about how the expected rematch with Trump may look as the calendar turns toward the summer and fall.

Hogan jumps in: Republican Larry Hogan routinely racked up sky-high job approval ratings as governor of Maryland. But winning the Senate seat now occupied by the retiring Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin could prove a heavier lift. Hogan kicked off his campaign Friday by pledging to bring a commonsense approach to a “completely broken” Washington. 

Retirements roll on: The Republican retirements keep coming. Since we last hit your inboxes, there were departing announcements from House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green and Rep. Mike Gallagher, who chairs the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. All were eligible to continue leading their respective panels after this Congress under House GOP rules. Green’s retirement announcement came shortly after the House adopted the measure he led impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which Gallagher opposed, as Michael Macagnone reports.

Election funding: Private funding to help local governments administer federal elections would be barred under a bill that cleared a House committee, CQ Roll Call’s Justin Papp reports.

New rules: Seeking to stop the seemingly endless rounds of impeachment inquiries, speaker votes and censure attempts, Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would change House rules around the procedural maneuver many members have used in this Congress to force votes on rebuking their colleagues. The measure would apply to privileged resolutions to censure, reprimand or expel a member, resolutions to vacate the speakership and resolutions to impeach government officials, Papp reports.

ICYMI

Big Sky battle: Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale officially launched his run for Montana Senate on Friday, setting up a bitter intraparty fight with businessman Tim Sheehy, the preferred candidate of the NRSC, for the nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. Just hours after Rosendale announced his bid, Trump issued a statement endorsing Sheehy. Columnist David Winston looks at the race and asks whether Republicans this year will “crack the code” to defeat Tester in November after three previous losing efforts.

New war room: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, announced today that it is launching a new effort to combat disinformation targeting Latino voters. “Our Lucha War Room” will fund research and conduct digital outreach in Spanish and Spanglish in support of the group’s endorsed candidates.

Campaign launch coming: Eric Hovde, a Wisconsin businessman, will launch a campaign to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin next week, spokesman Ben Voelkel confirms. Hovde, who has been considered a likely candidate for the seat for months, is a major recruit for Republicans, but it’s possible that other Republicans could follow him into the race, potentially prompting a competitive primary in the swing state.

One down, another to go: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul scheduled a special election for April 30 to complete former Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins’ term in the 26th District.

Celebrity endorsement watch: Musician John Legend is backing Barbara Lee in the California Senate race.

Dropping out: Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig ended his campaign for Michigan’s open Senate seat, but he left the door open for a potential run for mayor of Detroit. 

‘Lol, hey guys’: In a quest for younger voters, the Biden campaign joined TikTok this week despite his administration’s past concerns about the platform’s security risks. The posts so far have been a mix of lighthearted banter (Biden’s Super Bowl picks and his dinner with a voter in North Carolina) and jabs at Trump. But regardless of the topic, pro-Palestinian commenters have flooded his videos with critiques that the president has not done enough to address mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

What we’re reading

Stu says: The wrong people are retiring from Congress, Stu Rothenberg writes.

Subpoena issued: The U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon is seeking records related to a grant issued to a cannabis nonprofit in the fall of 2022 by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. At the time, the bureau was led by Democrat Val Hoyle, who is now a House member. Willamette Week reports that the subpoena appears to be connected to a federal inquiry examining the relationship between the cannabis chain and Oregon’s former secretary of state. Hoyle’s spokeswoman told the newspaper that the congresswoman has never been contacted by any law enforcement agency related to the case. 

Roots of a rift: Religion News Service examines growing concerns about the war in Gaza among Black Americans, a vital constituency for the Democratic Party and a key component of Biden’s reelection effort. A Black minister from Philadelphia is leading an eight-day march to Washington to urge the White House to stop supporting Israel’s assault on Gaza. 

Age limit test: A ballot measure barring anyone over 80 from serving in North Dakota’s congressional delegation could come before the state’s voters later this year, The Associated Press reports. The proposal comes at a time of rising concern about the ages of the nation’s political leaders, but it’s unclear whether a state age limit would pass constitutional muster.

Daines backs Lake: NRSC Chairman Steve Daines said Tuesday that he was formally backing Kari Lake in Arizona’s Senate race, calling her “one of the most talented candidates in the country” who “has what it takes to flip Arizona’s Senate seat in November.” The DSCC responded by calling Lake “the poster child for Senate Republicans’ candidate quality problem.”

#NJSEN: Democratic Rep. Andy Kim won the Monmouth County Democratic convention last weekend, defeating New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy in her home county. Politico reports that Kim’s win suggests that Murphy’s front-runner status may not be as secure as she’d hoped when she launched a campaign in November. One issue Kim and Murphy argued about in seeking the county’s backing was abortion rights, and Murphy later secured the endorsement of EMILY’s List. The group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights also endorsed Sue Altman in the 7th District. 

Speaking of EMILY’s List: Jonathan Allen of NBC News reports that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was invited to interview to lead EMILY’s list to fill the vacancy created by Laphonza Butler’s appointment to the Senate.

The Count: 42 percent each

That’s the share of Maryland voters who said they’d back Hogan or Democratic Rep. David Trone in a Senate matchup, according to an Emerson College poll released Thursday. Hogan was tied even though state voters said they would back President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump, 55 percent to 32 percent. Trone led his opponent in the Democratic primary, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, 32 percent to 17 percent. In a head-to-head, Alsobrooks trailed Hogan, 44 percent to 37 percent. The survey of 1,000 registered voters was taken Monday and Tuesday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the November matchups, but the margin was higher for the subset of Democratic primary voters.

Nathan’s notes

Hogan’s decision to run after initially rejecting the idea moved the Inside Elections rating for the Maryland Senate race from Solid to Likely Democratic, Nathan writes. Other Senate rating changes showed the race for Michigan’s open seat moving a notch closer to Toss-up, while New Jersey’s race moved back into the Solid Democratic column. 

Key race: #CA22

Candidates: Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford seeking a sixth term, faces three opponents in this central California district. The list includes two Democrats: state Sen. Melissa Hurtado and former California Assemblymember Rudy Salas, who came within about 3 percentage points of winning the seat in 2022. Valadao, one of 10 House Republicans who supported impeaching Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, also faces a challenger from the right in Republican Chris Mathys, a former member of the Fresno City Council who has embraced the former president.

Why it matters: The district is a key battleground that could help determine which party controls the House next year. It is one of just 17 districts held by a Republican that Joe Biden would have won in 2020 had the current boundaries been in place. Democrats and Republicans have already invested significant resources in the race. Salas, the preferred candidate of the DCCC, is locked in an increasingly nasty battle with Hurtado. House Majority PAC, a group aligned with the party’s House leadership, launched a TV ad in Spanish this week highlighting Salas’ support for abortion rights and advocacy for mental health care. Meanwhile, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with the House GOP leaders, is behind Valadao and has paid for ads and mailers targeting Mathys.

Cash dash: Valadao has by far the biggest war chest, with $1.4 million on hand at the end of 2023. Mathys had $306,000 while Salas had $295,000. Hurtado ended the year with less than $5,000 in her campaign account.

Backers: Salas has the support of California’s Democratic establishment, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, as well as the Service Employees International Union. He also picked up the endorsement of The Fresno Bee and is part of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” program, which provides additional resources to targeted candidates. Hurtado has the backing of several state lawmakers and local officials in the district. On the GOP side, the California Republican Party is backing Valadao, while Mathys is touting an endorsement from Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser to Trump.

What they’re saying: Valadao is pitching himself as the only Republican who can win and help the GOP maintain its majority in the House, while Mathys has painted the incumbent as a turncoat who joined with the Democrats and former Rep. Liz Cheney to impeach Trump. On the Democratic side, Salas is running an ad attacking Hurtado for a poor rating she received from an abortion rights group. Hurtado struck back, calling the ad misleading. She notes that she received a perfect score from Planned Parenthood and is the co-author of Prop 1, which enshrines the right to an abortion in the state constitution.

Terrain: The 22nd District is among the most Democratic-leaning districts currently represented by a Republican. It is situated in the San Joaquin Valley and includes part of Bakersfield before reaching north to Kings County, one of the nation’s top agricultural producers. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the district as Tilt Republican.

Wild card: All four candidates will compete in California’s nonpartisan primary on March 5, but only the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will secure a place on the November ballot.

Coming up

Congress will be in recess, but several Republican members of Congress will be in nearby Prince George’s County, Md., for the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. The confab kicks off Feb. 21 and runs through Feb. 24, with GOP presidential front-runner and former President Donald Trump as the headliner.

Photo finish

Who’s got two thumbs and is going back to Congress? This guy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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