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At the Races: Faith in politics

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Evangelicals long have been a powerful force in Republican politics, but Rep. Mike Johnson’s ascension to the speaker’s post marked a new chapter for the Christian right. The Louisiana Republican spent almost a decade serving on the board of the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and taught at Liberty University, a prominent Christian college in Virginia.

Most of the attention on Johnson’s religious views has focused on cultural issues such as his opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. But the recent debate over a sweeping aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan has also brought into sharp relief the ways in which the speaker’s Christian faith has shaped his foreign policy agenda. According to The New York Times, Johnson knelt and prayed for guidance after some of his fellow Republicans vowed to dislodge him from his post for putting the measure before the House. The Washington Post reported that evangelical Christians in the United States and Ukraine reached out to Johnson to discuss the persecution of Ukrainian Christians by Russian invaders.

Johnson is part of a cadre of evangelical Republicans who view foreign policy matters through the lens of faith, said John Fea, a historian at Messiah University in Pennsylvania who has written about evangelicals in American politics. He also cited Sen. James Lankford, the former Baptist pastor from Oklahoma who helped craft a bipartisan border security compromise measure that unraveled after Trump denounced it.

It’s an approach that harks back to George W. Bush, a born-again Christian who said he prayed all night before ordering the invasion of Iraq. “Johnson believed that God was telling him that the right thing to do was to send this money to Ukraine, just like George W. Bush said God told him to take out Saddam,” Fea said in an interview.

Fea described Johnson’s worldview this way: “The United States is God’s exceptional nation and as a result, we have this Christian moral responsibility … to bring aid to the suffering in Ukraine and to support Israel.”

In the past week, that view prevailed over the “America First” isolationism pushed by former President Donald Trump and adopted by a growing number of Republicans in Congress. Yet, as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza grind on, the gulf between that stance and Johnson’s faith-based approach could continue to widen.

Starting gate

Pennsylvania’s primary: Democratic Rep. Summer Lee and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick both defeated primary challengers on Tuesday. Meanwhile, GOP state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie will face Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in what’s expected to be a competitive race in the 7th District. Democrats in the 10th District picked former broadcast journalist Janelle Stelson to challenge Republican Rep. Scott Perry, a former House Freedom Caucus chair whom Democrats hope to oust in November. 

Title IX rules: The Biden administration finalized new rules designed to bolster legal protections at colleges and universities for LGBTQ+ students and victims of sexual misconduct. But with the election approaching, the new rules don’t address the politically contentious issue of transgender athletes competing on women’s sports teams. The Department of Education says it has received 150,000 comments on the issue and needs more time to conduct its review. 

AI ads: At least 39 states are considering measures that would add transparency to ads or calls generated by artificial intelligence ahead of the November election, CQ Roll Call’s Gopal Ratnam reports.

LaTurner out: Rep. Jake LaTurner of Kansas is the latest member of the House GOP conference to announce he won’t seek reelection. LaTurner, who at 36 is the third-youngest Republican in the House, cited balancing the pressures of running for and serving in Congress with the demands of his young family as his reason for opting out.

‘Don’t mess with the women of America’: That’s the message President Joe Biden traveled to Florida to deliver, our colleague John T. Bennett reports. “This isn’t about state rights, it’s about women’s rights,” Biden told a crowd in Tampa on Tuesday. “Florida is one of the 21 states in America where … you can’t get access you need for care. This adds up to 1 in 3 women throughout the United States of America that have this limitation.”


Endorsement watch: The Washington Post endorsed Angela Alsobrooks for Maryland’s open Senate seat. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer endorsed April Delaney in Maryland’s 6th District. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed state Rep. Rob Mercuri in Pennsylvania’s 17th District. Rep. Steven Horsford, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, backed Adam Hollier in Michigan’s 13th District over fellow Rep. Shri Thanedar. 

PAC backs vets: War Vets PAC, which supports Republican veterans running for Congress, has endorsed six House candidates: Derrick Anderson of Virginia, Troy Downing of Montana, Rob Mercuri of Pennsylvania, Philip Singleton of Georgia, Pat Harrigan of North Carolina and Tom Barrett of Michigan.

#VAGOV: Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s 2025 gubernatorial campaign got a boost after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he would run for lieutenant governor, rather than governor, next year. 

Flag flap: After the House passed a bill Saturday to send more military aid to Ukraine, Democrats on the floor were waving the war-torn country’s blue and yellow flag, and Republicans were not amused, our colleague Justin Papp reports.

Gonzales unloads: Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, who is fighting for his seat in a May 28 Republican runoff, ripped into GOP hard-liners, calling them “fringe people” and “scumbags” in an interview on CNN. Gonzales, a moderate, singled out Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who he says “paid minors to have sex with them at drunk parties.” (Federal prosecutors investigated the allegations but declined to charge Gaetz.) Meanwhile, Gonzales, a centrist who has been censured by the executive committee of the Texas Republican Party, picked up the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Done deal: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal brought by Kari Lake, the GOP Senate candidate this year, seeking to bar the use of electronic machines to count votes in the election for governor she lost in 2022.

Overtime: The top 10 spenders on lobbying Congress and the executive branch spent $89.1 million during the first quarter of this year, an increase over the previous quarter and the first quarter of 2023. Along with leftover work that spilled into the new year, firms also said they were preparing for the expiration of tax code changes enacted in 2017, our colleague Caitlin Reilly reports.

#NH02: George Hansel, the former mayor of Keene, won’t run for New Hampshire’s 2nd District. Hansel lost the Republican primary for the seat two years ago to a more conservative candidate, Robert Burns, who is also not running again.

What we’re reading

A costly gambit: Emily’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, went in big for Joanna Weiss, a first-time candidate running for a battleground seat in Orange County, California. Although the group spent more than $800,000 to support Weiss, she placed third in the state’s nonpartisan primary, leaving some Democrats questioning the decision, according to the Los Angeles Times

The pastor and the Pope: Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, had a private meeting with Pope Francis last week. The two men discussed faith and politics, including the war in Gaza, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Shrinking map: Both parties expect the battle for the House to come down to about 30 districts and control of the chamber to continue to be narrowly divided, Politico reports. 

Parenthood and politics: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has long been seen as a hyper-ambitious politician who is perpetually pondering his next move. But right now, Buttigieg is focused on raising his twins: NOTUS reports that becoming a dad has altered “the kind of future [Buttigieg] wants for himself.”

Who is Steve Garvey and why is he running for Senate? The Sacramento Bee dug into the former baseball player’s past and found a trail of tax liens, a lack of specific policy positions and a history of financial problems.

The count: 16.6 percent

That’s the share of Republicans in Pennsylvania who voted Tuesday for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley instead of Donald Trump in the presidential primary. Haley got 157,668 of the nearly 950,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results from The Associated Press as of 12:44 p.m. Thursday. The results also showed 12 percent of Democrats voted for either Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips (69,113 votes) or write-in candidates (60,223 votes) instead of President Joe Biden. Phillips quit the race on March 6 and endorsed Biden. Haley dropped out on the same day but did not endorse Trump.

Nathan’s notes

Republicans in Texas and Democrats in Maryland, Michigan and Washington could see their streaks in key statewide races come to an end this year, but it won’t be easy, Nathan writes.

Key race: #MD03

Candidates: Twenty-two Democrats filed to be on the ballot to replace Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who is retiring after nine terms in the House. Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn is running, along with state Sens. Sarah Elfreth and Clarence Lam. State Delegates Terri Hill, Mike Rogers and Mark Chang are also running. Other candidates include labor lawyer John Morse, businessman Juan Dominguez, attorney Michael Coburn and Abigail Diehl, who owns a produce market and founded a cannabis brand. Nine Republicans are also running, including retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bernard Flowers and attorney Robert Steinberger. 

Why it matters: Dunn developed a national profile after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which he testified about to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol and wrote a book about. He joined the race earlier this year and quickly built a huge war chest. To become the nominee, he’ll need to beat almost two dozen other candidates, including several state lawmakers. The winner of the Democratic primary will likely be the next member of Congress. 

Cash dash: Dunn has far outraised the rest of the field, bringing in $3.8 million as of March 31. He had $1.7 million on hand at the end of last month. Elfreth raised $916,000 and had $569,000 on hand, while Lam raised $640,000 and had $505,000 on hand. Among the delegates running, Rogers raised the most, reporting $294,000 raised through March and had $171,000 on hand. Hill raised $134,000 and had $71,000 on hand, while Chang raised $128,000 and had $104,000 on hand. 

United Democracy Project, the independent expenditure arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, reported spending $2 million to support Elfreth, an influx of money that Dunn and other candidates criticized

AAPI Victory Fund spent $11,500 on direct mail advertising to support Lam. BlueWave America LLC spent $2,750 on emails and texts supporting Dunn. 

Backers: Dunn is endorsed by several House members, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. James E. Clyburn, who was one of Pelosi’s top deputies. He’s also endorsed by VoteVets PAC and End Citizens United. Elfreth is endorsed by several state and local officials and the environmental groups LCV Action Fund and Sierra Club. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Morse, as have some labor unions. 

What they’re saying: In ads, Dunn has touted his work for the Capitol Police and presence on-site on Jan. 6, 2021. Elfreth and Lam both emphasized their work on gun legislation in separate ads. Morse has focused on progressive causes, including calling for a Green New Deal. Rogers released an ad including his family talking about his work in the state legislature. 

Terrain: The 3rd District is south of Baltimore and stretches from Annapolis to Mount Airy. Biden would have won the district by 25 percentage points in 2020, according to Inside Elections. Sarbanes has held the seat for nine terms and won his most recent election by 20.5 percentage points. Inside Elections rates the race as Solid Democratic. 

Wild card: Dunn’s campaign released a poll earlier this month showing he’s “well-positioned” to win the election, although a majority of those polled were still undecided, both before and after “hearing balanced positive information” about some of the candidates. 

Coming up

One of the House’s five vacancies — we expect a sixth any day now when Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher’s departure becomes official — will be filled Tuesday with a special election between Democratic state Sen. Timothy Kennedy and Republican West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson in New York’s 26th District. Biden would have won the district by 24 points in 2020, according to Inside Elections. The seat has been vacant since Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins resigned in February.

Photo finish

Condolences to the family and friends of late New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., a bow tie-loving son of a congressman who died Wednesday and had no shortage of colleagues eager to say he was a nice guy to be around. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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