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At the Races: Sunshine shake-up

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Democrats have been eyeing Florida as a chance to go on offense this year. When the state’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that voters will consider whether to enshrine abortion access in the state’s constitution in November, it gave Democrats a new boost of optimism in the Sunshine State.

The optimism isn’t without reason. When voters in red and swing states have considered ballot measures related to abortion since the Supreme Court in June 2022 ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade, they’ve consistently voted to support abortion.

Months after the Dobbs ruling, Kansans voted, 59 percent to 41 percent, to defeat a ballot measure that would have made it easier for state lawmakers to restrict access to the procedure. Michiganders in 2022 voted to guarantee the right to abortion and other reproductive rights, with 55.7 percent supporting the proposal. In Ohio last year, 56.6 percent of voters voted in support of a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to reproductive freedom, including abortion. 

But advocates and officials working in support of the Florida ballot measure will need to blow past those levels of support to amend the state’s constitution because the proposed amendment is subject to a 60 percent threshold. 

Long a key battleground state, Republicans saw major wins in Florida in 2022, with Sen. Marco Rubio winning reelection by 16 percentage points as the state moved to the right. The GOP has about 851,000 more registered voters in the state than Democrats do, according to data from February. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the state’s Senate race this year as Solid Republican. 

But Democrats view Sen. Rick Scott as vulnerable, as he won his 2018 race by 0.2 percentage points. Many members of his own party opposed his plan to require Congress to reauthorize federal programs every five years, and intense pressure over the issue led him to revise it to specifically exclude Medicare and Social Security. 

While the abortion referendum faces a high hurdle, it could provide a boost to other Democrats on the ballot, including President Joe Biden and likely Senate nominee Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former House member. Still, beating Scott, a wealthy former hospital executive, will be tough and expensive. This week, Scott’s campaign announced a multimillion-dollar ad buy in both English and Spanish highlighting how he’s fighting “against the socialist agenda in Washington.” 

Starting gate

Calling out GOP doctors in Congress: A group that works to elect Democrats with backgrounds in science and medicine launched a digital ad campaign criticizing Republican doctors in Congress over their opposition to abortion. 314 Action — the name reflects the first three digits of pi — is investing up to $200,000 on the ads, which accuse 14 GOP physicians who serve in the House and Senate of turning their backs on “a sacred oath.”

Fine line: A federal judge overturned New Jersey’s county organizational line for the state’s June primary, overhauling the state’s ballot design that gave preferential ballot placement to candidates supported by powerful county organizations. The ruling was responding to a request for a preliminary injunction by Rep. Andy Kim and topped off a big week for the three-term Democrat’s Senate campaign. 

Field set: Voters in Colorado’s 4th District will choose between a Republican former mayor who ran twice for governor and a Democratic first-time candidate in a June 25 special election to fill the vacancy created by Rep. Ken Buck’s resignation. But if the Republican wins, he won’t be in Congress long, as he is not running in the crowded primary for a full term that includes Rep. Lauren Boebert.

Big night: Even though it was last week, a $25 million fundraiser featuring the incumbent and two former presidents can’t pass without being noted here, and colleague John T. Bennett has takeaways from Biden’s New York City effort to boost Democratic enthusiasm.

ICYMI

CLF’s stamp of approval: The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House GOP leadership, announced its first slate of “Trailblazers,” a program that “provides direct financial support” to Republican candidates. Making the list are Nancy Dalhstrom in Alaska’s at-large district; Kevin Lincoln in California’s 9th and Scott Baugh in the 47th; Gabe Evans in Colorado’s 8th; George Logan in Connecticut’s 5th; Joe McGraw in Illinois’ 17th; Randy Niemeyer in Indiana’s 1st; Prasanth Reddy in Kansas’ 3rd; Austin Theriault in Maine’s 2nd; Tom Barrett in Michigan’s 7th; Joe Teirab in Minnesota’s 2nd; Laurie Buckhout in North Carolina’s 1st; Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s 2nd; Alison Esposito in New York’s 18th; Orlando Sonza in Ohio’s 1st, Derek Merrin in the 9th and Kevin Coughlin in the 13th; Rob Bresnahan in Pennsylvania’s 8th and Rob Mercuri in the 17th; and Derrick Anderson in Virginia’s 7th. 

Maryland money: Harry Dunn, the former Capitol Police officer who is running in Maryland’s 3rd District, gathered other candidates in the race to criticize outside spending by the United Democracy Project, a super PAC affiliated with the pro-Israel group AIPAC, Maryland Matters reports. Dunn criticized UDP as “MAGA money,” although the group has primarily made independent expenditures in Democratic primaries.

Challengers backed: Another pro-Israel group, meanwhile, announced endorsements of two challengers to Democratic incumbents. Democratic Majority for Israel is backing Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s challenge to Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th District and St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell’s challenge to Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri’s 1st District. A poll by the Mellman Group on behalf of the DMFI PAC found Latimer leading Bowman by 17 points ahead of the June 25 primary.

Nebraska nonpartisan: Omaha union leader and nonpartisan Senate candidate Dan Osborn says he’s collected enough signatures to make the November ballot. He’s trying to unseat Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, who is seeking her third term. There is currently no Democratic candidate in the race, but the party is weighing endorsing Osborn, the Nebraska Examiner reports.  

Conviction overturned: A Texas court overturned the voter fraud conviction of a Fort Worth woman who was charged with casting an illegal provisional ballot. According to The Associated Press, Crystal Mason did not know that being on probation for a previous felony conviction left her ineligible to vote in 2016. The ACLU of Texas called the ruling “a victory for democracy.”

Texas showdown: Republicans are rushing to defend Rep. Tony Gonzales, who is fighting for his political life in a runoff election against YouTuber and gun rights advocate Brandon Herrera in Texas’ 23rd District. As noted by Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin, the American Action Network, which is affiliated with CLF, just booked $827,000 in broadcast and cable ads. Meanwhile, Jewish Insider reports that Herrera used Nazi imagery and songs in some of his YouTube posts as recently as 2022.

#NH02: Maggie Goodlander, a White House aide, is considering moving back to her home state of New Hampshire to run to replace retiring Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, according to The Boston Globe. Goodlander, who is married to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, would likely begin the race with a lower name ID, but her résumé could help her with fundraising. 

Elections rules: Wisconsin voters approved two ballot referendums to amend the state’s constitution to prohibit clerks from using private grants to conduct elections and to clarify that only law-appointed election officials can conduct elections. 

Tightening race in the Cornhusker State: An internal poll commissioned by Democratic state Sen. Tony Vargas’ congressional campaign shows him in a statistical tie with Republican Rep. Don Bacon. The poll, shared with the Nebraska Examiner, also found 11 percent of voters were undecided. Bacon beat Vargas by about 3 percentage points in 2022. The Vargas camp says it raised more than $770,000 in the first quarter of 2024.

Endorsement watch: April McClain Delaney endorsed Rep. David Trone for Senate. Delaney is running for the 6th District seat, which Trone is vacating and which was previously held by her husband, John Delaney. State Sen. Dave Min, a Democrat running for the open seat in California’s 47th District, has picked up the endorsement of the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC endorsed Lucia Báez-Geller in Florida’s 27th District. 

#MS02: Army veteran Ron Eller, whose company’s products promise to help deer grow bigger antlers and disguise humans’ smell around animals, won the runoff election Tuesday for the Republican nomination to face Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in November. Eller defeated Andrew S. Smith, whose campaign website said he farmed pumpkins and worked in the automotive industry and commercial real estate appraisal after graduating a year early from Mississippi State University with a business administration degree.

Ad watch: Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen’s reelection campaign announced a $14 million ad reservation to run beginning in late July through the November election in the Las Vegas and Reno media markets.

What we’re reading

Able to run: Revised Federal Election Commission rules covering candidates who draw salaries from their campaigns “will change the political landscape” by allowing more people who aren’t wealthy to run for Congress, FEC Commissioner Shana M. Broussard and former candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley write in a Roll Call op-ed

Mini Freedom Caucuses: Stateline looks at the growth of the State Freedom Caucuses Network, led by conservative legislators working to push the GOP to the right on issues such as immigration, voting access and transgender civil rights. Modeled after the House Freedom Caucus, chapters have formed in 11 states. But some Republicans say the group is more interested in ginning up controversy and boosting its own image than in actual conservative policy.

What’s in a name? He’s the son of a former senator, but that hasn’t made Brent Hatch’s quest for the seat his father once held any easier. Hatch, whose father, Orrin G. Hatch, served in the Senate for more than four decades, told the Deseret News the daunting task of collecting 28,000 signatures to secure a place on the ballot has left his campaign “up in the air.”   

The count: $159,000

That’s how much the FEC fined Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who is now running for governor, for misreporting $11.5 million in loans to his 2018 campaign, in which he ousted Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. Braun’s Senate campaign fund had $255,000 in cash on hand on Dec. 31. 

Nathan’s notes

In updated ratings from Inside Elections, eight races moved toward Democrats while four moved toward Republicans, but the GOP remains in a better position to hold on to House control, Nathan writes

Key race: #IN05

Candidates: In 2022, Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz handily won a second term, but this year, her path to reelection faces a few hurdles. Spartz announced early in 2023 that she wasn’t running again, saying she wanted to spend more time with her two teenage daughters. But in February, she reversed course. By then, a crowd of Republicans had filed to run for the safe red seat, including construction company CEO and state Rep. Chuck Goodrich, former House staffer Max Engling, speech language pathologist and businessman Raju Chinthala and lawyer Mark Hurt.

Why it matters: The district is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections, so whoever emerges from the May 7 GOP primary is favored to win in November — although two Democrats, technology entrepreneur Ryan Pfenninger and Deborah A. Pickett, are also vying for the seat.

Cash dash: Goodrich had the most cash on hand at the end of last year. He loaned his campaign $1 million and is running ads highlighting his biography and attacking Spartz. Spartz had about $312,000 in her campaign account on Dec. 31 and is also running ads attacking Goodrich.

Backers: Before Spartz reentered the race, Engling, who rose from a House intern to become director of member services under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, received donations from leadership PACs affiliated with Republican members such as Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska and Jake Ellzey of Texas, as well as donations from McCarthy and NRCC Chairman Richard Hudson of North Carolina. Engling also has the backing of the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC. Goodrich picked up endorsements from several of his legislative colleagues. Chinthala has the support of Jim Schellinger, Indiana’s former secretary of commerce. Spartz had the backing of Trump in 2022, but the former president has not publicly endorsed a candidate in the race this cycle.

What they’re saying: Spartz is the first, and only, member of Congress born in Ukraine, and aid to that war-torn nation has emerged as a flash point in the GOP primary. Goodrich is running an ad accusing Spartz of prioritizing sending “$40 billion of our tax dollars to Ukraine before the border wall is finished.” Spartz responded with an attack ad slamming Goodrich as soft on China. “Goodrich voted to let Chinese companies buy Indiana farmland,” the ad states. “China Chuck Goodrich puts China first to get rich.” Spartz’s ties to Ukraine elevated her profile in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, but she was also an early critic of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and has called for more oversight on weapons and aid provided by the United States.

Terrain: The district is located near the center of the state and includes Carmel and Fishers, two fast-growing Indianapolis suburbs. Trump won the district with 57 percent of the vote in 2020, and it became more Republican after redistricting in 2021.

Wild card: Goodrich released an internal poll this week showing him trailing Spartz by 3 percentage points, which is within the margin of error. The other candidates were all in the low single digits. But the survey found 26 percent of Republican primary voters remain undecided. There have been no independent public polls on the race.

Coming up

Congress returns next week, with Speaker Mike Johnson’s gavel possibly on the line if he puts funding for Ukraine aid on the floor, while the Senate decides how to handle the House-passed impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Photo finish

Someone wasn’t exactly happy to meet the president during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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