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At the Races: Jobs not judges

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call campaign team. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

The Biden-Harris reelection campaign is hitting kitchen-table issues hard as Donald Trump is largely stuck in a New York City courtroom, and Democrats down the ballot hope this focus gives him coattails.

From abortion to jobs to health care, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their top surrogates are pushing their agenda and lobbing verbal blow after blow in the direction of Trump and Republican candidates.

Biden was in the Racine, Wis., area on Wednesday touting a $3.3 billion Microsoft investment in an artificial intelligence data center there — on the site of a scuttled development by Foxconn that had the backing of Trump when he was president. 

“We’ve created over 178,000 jobs in Wisconsin. We’re creating more here in Racine — big time,” Biden said Wednesday.

The president spoke shortly before Harris made her latest public remarks about abortion access, again slamming Republicans for states’ abortion bans and conservative Supreme Court justices’ decision to end federal protections once granted by the landmark Roe vs. Wade case.

The duo’s appearances came after their reelection campaign went on air to criticize Republicans for attempts to repeal the 2010 health care law implemented when Biden was vice president.

“In particular as we’re talking about the stakes, I think they could not be higher for Americans who rely on the Affordable Care Act. That’s a message we’ll be driving hard across the board throughout the month of May and into the summer,” Michael Tyler, the Biden-Harris campaign communications director, told reporters Tuesday.

Health care and Biden’s efforts to lower drug prices are going to be prominent topics on the campaign trail as well, Quentin Fulks, the principal deputy campaign manager, added on the call. 

Democratic lawmakers and strategists for months have been pleading with the Biden-Harris campaign to focus less on Trump and more on pocketbook issues. Asked whether the campaign would primarily focus its messaging on issues or Trump’s legal woes, Tyler told CNN on Wednesday, “I think the voters want to know what the candidates are going to do for them.”

Nervous Democratic lawmakers, strategists and candidates appear to have gotten their wish — especially as two Trump criminal trials this week were formally or informally delayed, with verdicts unlikely before Election Day.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin was busy with Senate business as Biden spoke in her home state, but she also touted the Microsoft project. “Wisconsin is the obvious choice for Microsoft: We have a second-to-none workforce, a proud tradition of innovation, & high quality of life,” she wrote on X, formerly called Twitter.

But Wisconsin GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden criticized what he dubbed the president’s “build back broke agenda.” Van Orden in a Wednesday statement accused Biden of “ignoring his real record: the rise in inflation by 18 percent or the fact that Wisconsin families are spending $880 more a month as a result of his far-left policies. With six months to go until Election Day, Biden cannot hide from his record.”

Starting gate

Most vulnerable: The latest House list is here, while the Senate list is here. Of note, there are only eight senators instead of our usual 10 on the list, a sign of just how many of the seats up this cycle are not particularly competitive. In the House, conversely, there are really too many members to count who could be in trouble this fall if the political winds are not blowing in their direction.

Behind the scenes: This week the Political Theater podcast hosted by Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick looks at what it takes to get on our most vulnerable list, which we’ve now done three times this cycle and will update several more times before Election Day.  If you still want more, our 2024 Election Watch Briefing webinar series continued this week with Daniela and Mary Ellen discussing the Senate map. You can catch up on that session and return to last month’s discussion about House races here.

Back home again: Tuesday’s Indiana primary saw Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz nominated to seek another term and put another Republican, former Rep. Marlin Stutzman, on the comeback trail to Congress in the Hoosier State’s 3rd District. Rep. Jim Banks was unopposed in the GOP primary for the Senate seat Mike Braun is vacating because he’s the odds-on favorite to be the next governor. And in the state’s one heavily Democratic district, the Republican primary winner actually died before the election.

Poll watching: Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry leads his Democratic opponent by 2 points, a new poll conducted for Janelle Stelson’s campaign shows. Democrats are hoping Stelson will give the former House Freedom Caucus chair a competitive race. 

Louisiana update: Michael Macagnone reports that Black voters and civil rights groups are asking the Supreme Court to allow Louisiana’s congressional elections to move ahead with the most recent redistricting maps, which created a sprawling Black-opportunity district to address concerns from a federal judge. But a separate panel of three federal judges ruled 2-1 against the new maps on different grounds.


Messy in Maryland: The Democratic Senate primary in Maryland is getting tense as Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks have been crisscrossing the state ahead of Tuesday’s election. Our friend Bridget Bowman at NBC News reports that EMILY’s List’s campaign arm recently went up on air to support Alsobrooks’ campaign, but it may have been too late to counter the millions of dollars Trone has spent on his campaign. A new Emerson College poll released Thursday showed a tight race, with 42 percent of voters saying they support Alsobrooks and 41 percent supporting Trone, with another 12 percent undecided. 

#NJ10: A writ of election issued by Gov. Phil Murphy gave candidates until Friday to file to run in a special July 16 primary and set a Sept. 18 special election to fill the unexpired term of Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr., who died last month. Payne’s name, unopposed, is still on the June 4 Democratic primary ballot for a full term, but party leaders in the district can replace the nominee after the primary. Whether they wait to see who wins the special primary or put a favored candidate — Politico reported it was Newark Council President LaMonica McIver — is unclear. Former East Orange council member Brittany Claybrooks, who had been working on Rep. Andy Kim’s Senate campaign, also is running.

Still Bern-ing: At age 82, Bernie Sanders isn’t done with the Senate. The independent, who caucuses with the Democrats and ran to be that party’s presidential nominee, announced Monday that he will seek reelection in November.

She’s running: Maggie Goodlander launched a campaign for the open seat in New Hampshire’s 2nd District, where Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is retiring. Goodlander, who most recently worked as a White House senior adviser and has held a number of different roles in D.C., joins a Democratic primary that includes Colin Van Ostern, a former gubernatorial nominee who has Kuster’s endorsement. In her launch video, Goodlander touts her Granite State roots and said she and her husband, Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, recently lost a baby boy when she was 20 weeks pregnant.  

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy challenged: Republican Matthew Corey announced this week that he’s making another run against the Connecticut Democrat. Corey, a veteran and small-business owner, was the GOP’s nominee in 2018, when he lost to Murphy by 20 points. 

Lee backs Schiff: Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who did not advance to the general election ballot for Senate under California’s top-two system, on Wednesday endorsed Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff over Republican Steve Garvey. “Californians have a clear choice this November in who they want representing them in the Senate — a Trump apologist or a defender of democracy,” Lee said in a statement.

#MD03: Elect Democratic Women, which is led by House Democratic women, endorsed Sarah Elfreth in Maryland’s 3rd District primary. Elfreth, a Maryland state senator, is running in a crowded field that includes Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who is endorsed by several members of Congress. 

AI elections: The Senate Rules and Administration Committee has noticed a markup for next week on a trio of bills focused on the effects of artificial intelligence on elections and election administration.

Civic duty: Former President Jimmy Carter, who is 99 and in hospice care, cast his mail-in ballot in Georgia’s primary, his grandson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Monica Pearson Show. “It’s important to him. I mean, that’s the person he is,” Jason Carter said.  

What we’re reading

Stu says: A millennial woman on the ticket could help Trump with two voting blocs, but Stu Rothenberg is, to put it mildly, not sold on New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik as vice president.

Columnist corner: Mary C. Curtis says Republicans haven’t learned from the past by erecting hurdles to voting. David Winston analyzes how voters are reacting to campus protests.

No dogs harmed in making this book: A new analysis of how the Senate was changed, and wasn’t changed, by Trump’s presidency includes a chapter on his “disregard for Senate norms and prerogatives” by At the Races’ own Niels Lesniewski.

Cruzing in West Virginia: The Republican Senate primary in West Virginia doesn’t look like that much of a race, but Politico headed to the panhandle to find Texas Sen. Ted Cruz out stumping for Republican Rep. Alex X. Mooney. Incumbent Gov. Jim Justice is the clear favorite, with the backing of both Trump and more establishment GOP forces.

Running in West Virginia: Meanwhile, The New Yorker profiles Zach Shrewsbury, the tattooed and bearded community organizer who is running for the Democratic Senate nomination in the Mountain State. “It’s an experimental campaign,” Shrewsbury said. “You have to get enough people on the ground and basically go door to door to start changing minds.”

The count: 15 percent

That’s the share of adults nationwide in an Economist YouGov poll released Wednesday who said that Kristi Noem’s “actions toward her dog” were acceptable, compared with 67 percent who said unacceptable and 18 percent who weren’t sure. As with everything, puppy love varied by party ID. The acceptable/unacceptable split for Democrats and people who lean Democratic was 4 percent/89 percent; independents split 17 percent/62 percent; and Republicans 31 percent/37 percent. Capitol Ink cartoonist R.J. Matson had this take on the issue last week.

Nathan’s notes

The presidential contest in Nevada has moved into the Toss-up column, according to the latest update from Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Nathan explains that the shift from Tilt Democratic comes with polls showing Biden at risk of losing the Silver State as an unpopular incumbent, just as he won it by 2.4 points by beating an unpopular incumbent four years ago.

Key race: #GA03

Candidates: Brian Jack, who was the White House political director in the Trump administration, is running along with a handful of other candidates, including state Sen. Mike Dugan and former state legislators Mike Crane and Philip Singleton.

Why it matters: It’s an open solidly Republican seat with incumbent Rep. Drew Ferguson having announced his retirement. The winner of the May 21 primary (or the June 18 runoff) will most likely be a member of the 119th Congress. Early voting is underway.

Cash dash: Jack led the way in fundraising at the end of the first quarter, having brought in more than $600,000. Crane has raised about $465,000 while also loaning his campaign $40,000. The other candidates raised less.

Backers: Jack has Trump’s endorsement, and the former president publicly encouraged him to run before he made his intentions public. Crane touts endorsements from Cruz, the Texas senator, and Kris Kobach, the Kansas attorney general.

What they’re saying: The candidates participated in an April 28 debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club that featured plenty of foreign policy — but much of the discussion was about which candidate would best support the Trump agenda. During the debate, all the candidates on the stage raised their hands when asked if Trump “was the rightful winner” in Georgia in 2020 — a state Trump lost by nearly 12,000 votes.

Terrain: Largely rural western Georgia. Ferguson’s district office is in Newnan, roughly 40 miles on Interstate 85 from Atlanta.

Wild card: Almost 12 percent of the money Jack raised through March 31 came from the campaign accounts and leadership PACs of current and former House members, including $12,000 each from Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., and former NRCC chair Tom Emmer, R-Minn., along with $5,000 from South Dakota Gov. and ex-Rep. Kristi Noem. 

Coming up

Next week’s primaries are in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia. There’s also a runoff in North Carolina’s 13th District, but the race is essentially finished because one of the candidates withdrew. She remains on the ballot, however, and her votes will be counted.

Photo finish

Indiana 3rd District primary winner Marlin Stuzman, who is hoping for a House comeback, waits for the ball at third base as California Rep. Pete Aguilar, now the Democratic Caucus chair, slides in safely during the 2015 Congressional Baseball Game. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Correction: This report has been corrected to reflect the current office of Kris Kobach.

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