At the Races: Is Iowa over yet?

Posted February 6, 2020 at 2:20pm

By Bridget Bowman, Simone Pathé and Stephanie Akin 

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

Last week, our headline was that Iowa matters after Monday. Little did we know! As we email this out Thursday, the Iowa Democratic Party’s tally was still at 97 percent of precincts reporting, and DNC Chairman Tom Perez was calling for an “immediate” recanvas. The candidates had moved on to New Hampshire and beyond. And it was clear that any bump that Pete Buttigieg — who was leading Bernie Sanders by a hair in the delegate tally — would get from the botched caucus would be muted.

Iowa’s congressional delegation banded together to defend the state’s first-in-the-nation status on the primary calendar. One way to gauge how seriously other lawmakers in Congress take the results will be to watch whether they pick up their as-yet snailish pace on endorsing the presidential candidates.

So far, just over 80 members of Congress have given their stamp to candidates still in the race, according to our count. That’s about half as many as we had counted by Iowa caucus day in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Campaign veterans told CQ Roll Call that lawmakers could be waiting this time around for the field to narrow, and campaigns might not be courting congressional endorsements as feverishly as they did in 2016, when everyone was watching whether Sanders would get any establishment support in his matchup with insider favorite Hillary Clinton.

But there is a chance that the murky results in Iowa this year could give Hill lawmakers’ choices more weight as candidates seek another way to break away from the pack. So far, Buttigieg has just six congressional endorsements. That put him in a tie near the bottom of the pack with Amy Klobuchar, who was coming in fifth in Iowa at press time. Joe Biden, who spent much of the week trying to downplay what looks to be a fourth-place showing in Iowa, was the breakaway leader in the congressional endorsement race, with 45.

We will be watching whether any other members of Congress announce their picks. That’s assuming any of them are still thinking about Iowa after a week spent sharing Nancy Pelosi memes about paper-ripping, wringing their hands over President Donald Trump’s all-time-high job approval rating, and wondering whether Mitt Romney’s impeachment vote will appear in his obituary before a mention of the time he drove 12 hours with his dog on the roof of his car.

Starting gate

Still in trouble: This week’s impeachment vote in the Senate probably hasn’t changed the dynamics facing some of the most vulnerable senators. Alabama Democrat Doug Jones was in a “lose-lose” situation and ultimately voted to convict and remove Trump, which keeps his Democratic base of support intact. One of the most vulnerable Republicans, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, broke with her party on witnesses, but ultimately voted to acquit the president. She still faces the tough task of proving her independence while not alienating the GOP base.

Party like it’s 1996: That’s the last time former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who won the Democratic nomination Tuesday in Maryland’s 7th District, was in the House. He’ll be heavily favored in the April 28 special general election to fill the seat left by the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. On the same day, he’ll also have to win the nomination for the November election to win a full term.

How about that fourth quarter? No, we are not talking about Patrick Mahomes’ 44-yard pass to Tyreek Hill. We’re talking about the fourth quarter fundraising reports! We combed through reports from competitive House and Senate races so you don’t have to. Here are our six takeaways

Raucous caucus: Yikes, Iowa. To say the caucuses were a mess is probably an understatement. Monday’s debacle could jeopardize Iowa’s “first-in-the-nation” status. Iowa members of Congress definitely don’t want that to happen, and they banded together to defend their state. Although the chaos around the presidential results dominated the news, Iowa’s congressional candidates also got in on the caucus action, using the gatherings to do some early organizing. Also for the first time ever, a satellite caucus took place in D.C., but it was just as chaotic as the caucuses back home.

ICYMI

Coming to a Senate race near you: EMILY’S List, which backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, is “hyper-focused” on Senate races in 2020 because of the implications on the Supreme Court. Bridget joined C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” to help interview EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, who weighed in on the group’s 2020 targets, why the top Democrats in key Senate races are men and whether the group could still endorse in the presidential race.

Golden ticket: Michael Bennet got his first presidential endorsement from a Frontline House Democrat. Maine Rep. Jared Golden endorsed the Colorado senator’s bid just days before the primary in New Hampshire, where Bennet’s been concentrating his efforts. Golden flipped a district that Trump carried by 11 points in 2016, and the Marine veteran has shown he does things his own way. He’s bucked his party on several major votes, and was the only House Democrat to split his vote on the two articles of impeachment.

Primary shenanigans: An outside group with ties to Republicans is spending in the North Carolina Senate race — in the Democratic primary. The group has reserved more than $1 million in TV ads backing state Sen. Erica Smith, who’s up against national Democrats’ preferred choice in the race, Cal Cunningham. Republicans may be trying to boost Smith, who’s more liberal and has raised less money than Cunningham, in the March 3 primary because they think she’d be a weaker challenger to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis in November.

Secret society: The Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers LLC was incorporated in late November in Hawaii. About a month later, it donated $150,000 to 1820 PAC, a pro-Susan Collins super PAC with ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But there’s no public information about the company, let alone any record of it ever raising money. That mystery led the Campaign Legal Center to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday alleging an illegal straw donor scheme. That pro-Collins group, The Daily Beast reports, has reported receiving only $500 in donations from Maine.

That ’ole trick: Georgia Sen. David Perdue skipped part of a subcommittee meeting to attend a meeting with big donors, the Atlanta NBC affiliate reported this week. Democrat Jon Ossoff held a press conference to condemn Perdue, and demand the senator release the names of those donors, while touting his own no-corporate-PAC pledge. Campaigns have been attacking lawmakers’ committee attendance for a long time. It doesn’t always work, and it’s sometimes bogus, but it may have more sticking power when the lawmaker in question skips official duties to raise money. It stuck in North Carolina in 2014, when Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan admitted she skipped a hearing to attend a fundraiser because the hearing had been rescheduled. Tillis supporters saw it as the “turning point” of the Senate race.

Great teamwork: Ask a GOP House member or candidate where they’ve ever disagreed with Trump, and it’s not unusual to hear about funding for restoration of the Great Lakes — which Trump originally wanted to cut. So it’s notable that on the same day Republicans voted to acquit him in the Senate, the House passed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act by a bipartisan vote of 373-45. Forty-four mostly conservative Republicans, along with independent Rep. Justin Amash, voted against it.

Romcom: After his vote to convict the president on the first article of impeachment Wednesday, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is likely to play an even bigger role in the Georgia Senate race, which The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s inimitable Greg Bluestein is tracking. GOP Rep. Doug Collins took to Twitter with a “daily reminder” after the vote that Sen. Kelly Loeffler donated to Romney in his 2012 presidential bid. He got some backup from Perdue, who called Romney “Jeff Flake on steroids.” Both Collins, who was one of Trump’s biggest defenders during the House impeachment inquiry, and Loeffler were at the White House Thursday for the president’s acquittal victory lap. Trump gave a shout-out to both of them, predicting Loeffler would end up “liking” Collins. “Something’s going to happen,” Trump said. “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

What we’re reading

330 miles away: Washington County, Ohio, is sitting on natural gas reserves that have long given its residents hope about what their future could hold. CQ Roll Call’s Jessica Wehrman spent time there talking to voters, many of whom believe Trump’s deregulatory policies are their best hope. “I’m not tired of winning,” one car wash owner told her.

Expense reports: North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp is no longer in the Senate, but she still has a campaign account with more than $4 million. Forum News columnist Rob Port took a closer look at the money coming in and out of that account, including payments received for renting her email list to other candidates and a nearly $7,000 bill at a Capitol Hill liquor store. Heitkmap’s account has also sent $600,000 to a nonprofit she now works for.

Never mind: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is no longer pursuing a deal with Shadow Inc., the vendor behind the app that has caused so many problems with reporting the Iowa caucus results, The Daily Beast reported. The DSCC, which did not comment for the story, had wanted to use Shadow for its peer-to-peer texting programs.

The count: 30

About 30 registered lobbyists disclosed donations to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in the second half of 2019 — even though the Democrat has a policy of rejecting those donations. The campaign has already refunded some of those contributions, but as CQ Roll Call’s Kate Ackley reported this week, Biden isn’t the only Democratic presidential candidate who has disavowed lobbyist money but attracted those checks anyway.

Nathan’s notes

Republicans battling to keep control of the Senate and take back the House can find a lot to like in the points Trump emphasized in his State of the Union address Tuesday, including economic growth, tax cuts and “fair and reciprocal trade agreements.” But those are also the messages they hoped Trump would focus on before the 2018 midterms. And as Nathan noted in his post-speech analysis, Trump too often has veered into name-calling and score-settling when he gets away from the teleprompter and starts firing off tweets or firing up crowds at rallies.

Candidate confessions

Former state Sen. Jason Atkinson, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, is running for retiring Rep. Greg Walden’s seat in Oregon’s 2nd District. After he left the state Senate in 2013, Atkinson pursued filmmaking, producing the film, “A River Between Us,” about the battle over the Klamath River. Atkinson’s yellow labrador, Lola, became an unexpected star of the film. But if Atkinson comes to Washington, his dogs Lola and Rita will stay back home in Oregon, along with his other animals, which include chickens named after “Napoleon Dynamite” characters.

Reader’s race: Colorado Senate

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner is one of two Republicans running for reelection in a state Clinton won in 2016, making him one of the most vulnerable senators this year. Gardner voted with his party on this week’s impeachment vote, acquitting Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. The freshman senator has the difficult task of keeping his base Republican support intact while also appealing to more moderate voters in the state. Nearly 40 percent of voters in Colorado aren’t registered with a party. 

Republicans are confident that Gardner’s affable demeanor and focus on state-specific issues give him an edge, while Democrats believe he won’t be able to overcome the state’s shifting partisan dynamics. In 2016, Clinton carried Colorado by 5 points. And in 2018, Democrats won all five statewide executive offices and control of the state Legislature for the first time since 1936. Democrats often point to the 2018 governor’s race as proof Gardner is in trouble. The GOeP nominee, Walker Stapleton, a two-term state treasurer, won about 100,000 more votes than Gardner did in 2014, but Stapleton still lost to Democrat Jared Polis by 10 points. Inside Elections rates Gardner’s reelection a Toss-up.

There is still a crowded Democratic primary to take on Gardner, but former Gov. John Hickenlooper has been dominating primary fundraising. Hickenlooper jumped into the race after ending his presidential campaign (and after saying repeatedly that he did not want to run for Senate). He outraised Gardner in the final fundraising quarter of 2019, raising nearly $2.8 million to Gardner’s $2 million. But Gardner still has a cash-on-hand advantage with $7.7 million in the bank to Hickenlooper’s $3.2 million. And Hickenlooper, who has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has to spend some of his bankroll winning his party nomination. Hickenlooper’s most well-funded primary opponent is former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2014 and the Senate in 2010. Romanoff ended 2019 with $686,000 in the bank.

It’s not clear how many Democrats will secure a spot on the primary ballot. There are two ways to get onto the ballot: collecting signatures from each congressional district (which can be expensive) or winning at least 30 percent of delegate votes at the state party’s assembly in April. Petitions are due March 17. Hickenlooper is pursuing both paths, according to Colorado Politics, while Romanoff is focused on the state assembly. When Romanoff ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2010, he won 60 percent of the vote at the assembly, besting Michael Bennet, who was endorsed by the DSCC. Romanoff, who was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton in his 2010 race, eventually lost that primary to Bennet.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Maine’s 2nd District or the Minnesota’s 8th District. Email us at: attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Democratic presidential candidates debate Friday ahead of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, seven candidates have qualified so far: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.

Photo finish

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 3: Aurelia Peterson, 3, left, and Jude Peterson, 1, eat food before the start of a Democratic satellite caucus at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Caucusing requires calories. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

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Niels Lesniewksi contributed to this report.