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At the Races: A John trifecta

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Maybe North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer was joking when he said he was waiting to decide who to back for Senate Republican leader because he wanted “to get all the free dinners out of people named John I can get,” but there’s a ring of truth to it, particularly when it comes to fundraising.

The three senators named John who’ve served as top lieutenants to outgoing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and any other Senate Republicans who may seek to replace McConnell will be coveted guests, particularly on the fundraising circuit with campaign donors eager to make their acquaintance.

The “three Johns” — John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming — are already established figures with donors. Thune is the current whip, Cornyn is a former whip and former two-term NRSC chairman, and Barrasso is the conference chairman. Other contenders for the leadership post could emerge as well, but the internal contest is much less likely to yield a relatively unknown name the way a House leadership battle last year catapulted Louisiana’s Mike Johnson into the job of House speaker.

Cornyn formally threw his hat into the ring Thursday morning, saying in a statement, “From experience, I have learned what works in the Senate and what does not, and I am confident Senate Republicans can restore our institution to the essential role it serves in our constitutional republic. We will improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member’s expertise and opinion.”

The voters in an internal Senate GOP election, conducted by secret ballot with the winner needing only a majority of the conference, not the full chamber, will be the members of the Senate in the 119th Congress, meaning it may be important for a would-be leader to pick the right horses in contested primaries.

That’s especially true in places like Ohio, where the NRSC (whose chairman, Montana Republican Steve Daines, could also emerge as a leadership contender) has not taken sides.

And of course, there is always the role played by Donald Trump. The former president could be president-elect by the time this election takes place, and MAGA-aligned senators could have their own ideas about the next leader, possibly not named John. Thune joined the other Johns in endorsing Trump earlier this week, after previously supporting South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s White House bid. 

McConnell’s announcement on Wednesday that he would step down from the leadership role he has held since 2007 came after a good run of getting Republican primaries on the 2024 map to break in his direction. 

Starting gate

Sweet home Alabama: Reps. Jerry Carl and Barry Moore face off in a GOP primary contest on Tuesday after court-ordered redistricting moved them into the same district. An analysis of which House members contributed to their campaigns shows how each second-term Republican fits into the conference. Carl received contributions from members more aligned with leadership, while Moore has the backing of his fellow Freedom Caucus members. 

IVF ruling fallout: Some Republicans who have gone on the record with their support for in vitro fertilization after an Alabama ruling that frozen embryos are human previously supported legislation that would define life as beginning at conception. Democrats have said they’ll continue to raise the issue on the campaign trail, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman reports

Super Tuesday down the ballot: Super Tuesday might be anticlimactic at the presidential level, but for congressional incumbents seeking other offices or facing contested primaries, everything’s on the line. The list is headlined by California Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam B. Schiff, who are giving up their House seats to run for Senate. Under California’s primary system, at least one of them will be eliminated Tuesday. But for dozens of other candidates up on Tuesday, there’s no need to break a sweat. Indeed, seven of them have no major-party opponents in either the primary or in November.

Charge your earbuds: If you’d rather hear about what’s up in congressional primaries on Super Tuesday than read about them, download the Political Theater podcast and listen to Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick discuss the races with Daniela and Mary Ellen. 

New York, new map: New York’s congressional maps are set for this year after Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a new map into law Wednesday, CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone reports. The new map may make districts currently held by GOP Reps. Marc Molinaro and Brandon Williams more favorable to Democrats. Also getting a little bluer is the seat of the newest member of the House, Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, who flipped the 3rd District earlier this month and was sworn in Wednesday night.

ICYMI

Q&A: North Carolina Rep. Kathy Manning is open about her displeasure with the state’s new map, which she says was gerrymandered “most egregiously” and prompted her decision not to seek reelection. The two-term Democrat tells Jim Saksa that “it’s amazing that anything gets done” in Congress amid the partisan divide. 

Coming attraction: The Supreme Court will consider whether Trump is immune to federal charges in Washington tied to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, Macagnone writes. Their decision could determine whether and when Trump would go to trial in the case ahead of the November presidential election, in which he is the Republican front-runner.

He’s in: Former Rep. Justin Amash, who became an independent in 2019, is running for Senate in Michigan. “After thoroughly evaluating all aspects of a potential campaign, I’m convinced that no candidate would be better positioned to win both the Republican primary and the general election,” he said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Amash and two other former House members, Mike Rogers and Peter Meijer, are among the candidates running in the Aug. 6 primary. 

Dropping out: In Oregon, Republican Denyc Boles is dropping her bid for the 6th District seat held by Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas, citing “unexpected circumstances,” according to the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Her decision could clear the GOP field for Mike Erickson, who lost to Salinas in 2022. Meanwhile in Minnesota, community activist and former city official Ron Harris is giving up his run for the 3rd District seat held by Democratic House member and long-shot presidential candidate Dean Phillips. Harris announced on X that he’s backing state Sen. Kelly Morrison.

The field grows in eastern Washington: At least three Republicans are running to succeed Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who announced earlier this month that she’s retiring. State Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber launched her bid this week, joining Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel and former Senate candidate John Guenther. More candidates are expected to enter the race, Washington State Standard reports.

Deja vu: Pity the poor voters of Bridgeport, Conn. They’ve now gone to the polls four times since September to choose between the same two candidates for mayor. Two of the previous elections, a Democratic primary in September and a general election in November, were ruled invalid by a judge. Mayor Joe Ganim won both elections, along with a do-over primary in January, but the challenger in the race, John Gomes, qualified as an independent, which gave him one more chance to unseat Ganim. On Tuesday, he lost once again.

Voting options: A Delaware Superior Court judge struck down laws allowing for early voting and letting some voters register permanently for absentee ballots. Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings has said her office will appeal the ruling. 

Path cleared: Indiana Rep. Jim Banks’ path to the Senate got easier this week when the state’s Election Commission and Supreme Court said egg farmer John Rust did not qualify for the ballot.

Rethinking things: Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, who within the span of several weeks declared he was running for Senate then abruptly dropped his bid after Trump endorsed his fellow Republican Tim Sheehy, said he now plans to seek reelection to the House. “I have always said I will serve where the people of Montana feel I can be the most effective, and serving Montana in Congress has truly been the honor and privilege of a lifetime,” Rosendale said in a statement. He also announced he’s backing Sheehy.

Second thoughts: House Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green is reconsidering his recent retirement decision. Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, meanwhile, unsuspended her campaign after coming in third, behind Biden and “uncommitted” but ahead of Phillips in the Michigan primary.

Sue the line: As he battles New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy for the Democratic Senate nomination in the June 4 primary, Rep. Andy Kim is suing to overturn the party’s practice of bracketing county-endorsed candidates together on the ballot. The practice, known as “the line,” historically has given organization-backed candidates a huge advantage in primaries, and counties with the biggest blocs of Democratic voters appear to be lining up behind Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy.

Ad buys: Reproductive Freedom for All is running ads in seven House districts highlighting the recent IVF ruling in Alabama. The ads are running in Arizona’s 6th District, California’s 13th, 22nd and 27th districts and New York’s 17th and 19th districts. Maryland Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks is also running a new ad touting her accomplishments as Prince George’s County executive. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: Democrats want the election to be a choice between Biden and Trump, but it’s still a referendum on Biden, which isn’t good for him, Stu Rothenberg writes.

Abdicating responsibility? The Star Tribune interviewed Phillips’ Minnesota constituents. Several expressed dismay at their congressman’s long-shot presidential run, noting that he missed important votes while campaigning in New Hampshire and other early primary states. But others said they support his run and believe he’s right to emphasize Biden’s age as a liability.

Familiar themes: Massachusetts Republican John Deaton, a cryptocurrency lawyer who launched a long-shot bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has highlighted his harrowing story of growing up in poverty. CommonWealth Beacon dug into Deaton’s biography and found echoes of Warren’s own hardscrabble youth.

‘Better-late-than-never Trumpers’: The Washington Post catches up with Alyssa Farah Griffin, Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews, three women who were once key players in the Trump White House and are now on the front lines of the Never Trump movement.

The count: 30 percent

That’s how much, on average, support in Congress drops for legislation backed by the president during a president’s second term — a situation that we’d face with either Biden or Trump being inaugurated next year — based on CQ Vote Studies data analyzed by our colleagues John T. Bennett and Ryan Kelly.

Nathan’s notes

It’s true that sizable blocs of voters have supported someone besides Trump in Republican primaries. But that doesn’t mean they’ll back Biden in November, Nathan writes.

Key race: #NC01

Candidates: Republicans Sandy Smith and Laurie Buckhout are locked in a battle to take on Democratic Rep. Don Davis. Smith is a business executive and is known to voters as the Republican nominee in the 1st District for the past two elections, losing to Davis two years ago by 5 percentage points. Buckhout is a retired Army colonel and founded a consulting business.

Why it matters: The winner of Tuesday’s primary will run in what’s expected to be the swing state’s only competitive House race this year. 

Cash dash: Buckhout has had the fundraising advantage throughout the campaign, having contributed $1 million to her campaign in October and adding another $100,000 on Monday. She had $315,000 on hand as of Feb. 14, while Smith had $55,000 on hand at that point. Smith contributed $450,000 to her campaign last year and added $7,200 on Tuesday. 

Backers: Both Smith and Buckhout have received support from outside groups. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House GOP leadership, has spent $136,000 on direct mail and media to support Buckhout, while American Patriots PAC spent $27,000 on direct mail and a group called Special Operations for America spent $20,000 on digital media advertising to support her. Fairshake, a cryptocurrency-supporting super PAC, spent $80,000 on ads to support Smith and a group called Fed Up Taxpayers Against Wokeness spent $39,000 on radio and TV ads supporting Smith and opposing Buckhout. Smith has endorsements from some members of the House Freedom Caucus, while Buckhout won the endorsement of North Carolina’s Freedom Caucus chair and Maggie’s List, a group that works to elect conservative women. 

What they’re saying: Both Republicans have focused on the border and their support for life and argue that they are best suited to flip the seat in November. Both also have personal baggage they’ve had to address. According to The Daily Advance, Buckhout pleaded guilty to reckless driving in Georgia several years ago after she was initially charged with driving under the influence. Smith has also been dogged by accusations of domestic violence that came up in the 2022 campaign, including from her daughter, who filed for a protective order in 2012 that was later dismissed. Smith has said she’s a victim of domestic violence and maintains a good relationship with her daughter. 

Terrain: The 1st District covers the northeastern part of North Carolina. Inside Elections rates the race as a Toss-up. 

Wild card: Should Smith or Buckhout defeat Davis in November, it would be the first time a Republican held the 1st District in more than a century.

Coming up

Vice President Kamala Harris headlines Sunday’s trip to Selma, Ala., for this year’s 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. The annual commemoration, in which participants march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, comes as Democrats are focused on a more recent news event in Alabama: the state Supreme Court decision that threw access to IVF into question.

Photo finish

The three Johns — from left, Republican Sens. Barrasso, Thune and Cornyn — stand behind Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell at a 2018 news conference in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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