At the Races: Will there still be balloons?

Posted August 20, 2020 at 2:45pm

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Corrected, 4:31 p.m | Democrats have one last night of their all-virtual political convention featuring presidential nominee Joe Biden, as Republicans prepare for their own show next week. 

Democrats have been stressing that Biden is the candidate who can bring together a broad coalition to defeat President Donald Trump that even includes Republicans. Biden’s supporters think his ability to work with Republicans in Congress will also help him make deals, even though most of the senators he served with are no longer there.

Trump has struggled to make his own bipartisan deals with Congress, which Nancy Pelosi alluded to at the convention last night by noting that, as speaker, she’s “seen firsthand Donald Trump’s disrespect for facts, for working families, and for women in particular.” Pelosi wanted to highlight more of the party’s policy agenda during her prime-time appearance, but as CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports, convention operatives wanted her to “tell more about what it’s like dealing with Donald Trump.”  

Pelosi did talk about Democrats’ “For the People” agenda of lowering health care costs, rebuilding the country through green infrastructure investments and cleaning up corruption in government, which vulnerable House Democrats will be touting on the campaign trail. A few Democrats in competitive House races also made prime-time convention appearances, serving as reminders (albeit brief ones) that Democrats are also working to hold onto their chamber majority. Some vulnerable lawmakers opted to appear at virtual watch parties. Others, including Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Max Rose of New York, participated in industry events, a sign that some lobbyists are embracing the Zoom panels as a way of staying plugged in for clients.

Starting gate

In the spotlight: At this week’s Democratic convention, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones stressed unity as he tries to win over Republicans. Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb and Texas Rep. Colin Allred, whose districts exemplify different paths to victory for Democrats, were part of the keynote address. The virtual convention also allowed some endangered lawmakers and candidates to participate without leaving their districts.

What Biden would do: The convention has revealed some of Biden’s policy priorities. CQ Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald dug into his plans for foreign policy. And Mary Ellen McIntire explained why Biden’s health care plan might still be a heavy lift even if Democrats run the table in November. The choice of California Sen. Kamala Harris as a running mate, meanwhile, shows voters motivated by the environment that Biden is serious about climate change, Benjamin J. Hulac reported.

More primaries!: In Florida, GOP Rep. Ross Spano became the eighth incumbent to lose in a primary. Elsewhere in the Sunshine State, the matchups were set in competitive races, and Byron Donalds was leading in his bid to become the first Black Republican to win a primary in a safe Republican open seat this cycle (meaning he’s likely to head to Congress). Matchups were also set for possibly competitive House and Senate races in Alaska, and in Wyoming, former Rep. Cynthia M. Lummus won the GOP Senate primary.

Speaker takes a side: Pelosi weighed in on the Democratic Senate primary in Massachusetts, backing Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III over incumbent Edward J. Markey

Aisle crosser: Former Rep. John Kasich, a lieutenant in the Gingrich revolution who signed a virtual abortion ban as governor of Ohio, broke with the GOP to endorse Biden during the Democratic convention Monday. But longtime Ohio regional reporter Jessica Wehrman, now with CQ Roll Call, noted that Kasich “has a history of bullheadedness and audacity — traits that have simultaneously infuriated people and helped him get things done.” 

Political money messaging: Democrats pledge to revamp the current political money system even as it’s boosting their campaigns in their quest for the White House and majorities in the Senate and House. 

Joe-mobile: D.C. Democrats are having one event to mark the convention that doesn’t require WiFi bandwidth. Tonight, the parking lot at RFK Stadium will be a drive-in watch party, Heard on the Hill’s Kathryn Lyons reports.

Means to an end: Progressives see a lot more at stake in the Sept. 1 primary challenge to Massachusetts Rep. Richard E. Neal, than just derailing a longtime incumbent. Should Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, prevail in the 1st District contest, it would prompt shuffling atop the House Ways and Means panel, which Neal chairs.

ICYMI

Crisis averted: National Republicans who worried a Kansas Senate nomination for Kris Kobach would doom their chances of holding retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts’ seat were probably sighing in relief today — again — that he lost the Aug. 4 primary. Kobach reported receiving more than $5,000 in income for serving as general counsel and a board member of We Build the Wall, the nonprofit at the center of the indictment of four men including Steve Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s 2016 campaign. Kobach, who also got a $2,800 contribution from Bannon, was not accused of any wrongdoing. But he still would have faced a PR nightmare, especially since the charges say Bannon and others used funds meant for the wall for personal expenses and Kobach called his work with the group “one of the most rewarding things I have done in my career.”

On the airwaves: As part of an ad reservation of $9.9 million across 12 districts, the DCCC for the first time is specifically targeting Black and Asian American voters with TV ads. The committee is reserving time on stations including the Black News Channel and VietFace TV. The effort will also continue outreach to Latino voters on Univision and Telemundo.

Moneyball?: Expressing dismay over the Lakers’ opening-round loss in the NBA playoffs, Fox Sports commentator Shannon Sharpe invoked Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins. As CQ Roll Call’s Clyde McGrady noted, Sharpe’s a contributor to Collins’ Democratic opponent, Sara Gideon.

Trump-Kelly voters?: The Associated Press reported that Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally told party activists she’s concerned some Trump supporters might not realize that her opponent, Mark Kelly, is a Democrat.

Mint edition: Terry Neese, a Republican who is in a runoff next week to challenge Horn in Oklahoma’s 5th District, is facing questions about a report that she was asked to withdraw from a George W. Bush-era appointment to head the U.S. Mint after tapes surfaced in which she instructed employees at her former employment agency to “lie when communicating with a client, make pretend phone calls, promise clients unconfirmed raises and to ‘manipulate people 24 hours a day.’”

The extreme going mainstream?: Laura Loomer became the latest GOP candidate with a history of expressing extremist views to win a high-profile primary and the blessing of the president, this time in Trump’s home district in Florida. Loomer will face Democratic incumbent Louis Frankel in a Palm Beach County seat Trump lost by 20 points.

Fiscal problems:  Freshman Republican Jim Hagedorn, who faces a competitive race in Minnesota’s 1st District this fall, paid more than $100,000 in taxpayer funds to a business owned by one of his staff members in addition to some other questionable deals reported by the Minnesota Reformer

What we’re reading

Is that true?: This week, RollCall.com started carrying analyses by FactCheck.org of misstatements and half-truths from the Democrats’ nightly TV show. We call it that because their first fact-check was over the word “convention.” Daily dispatches here: Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday.    

Trump’s party: Win or lose in November, the president is remaking the Republican Party for years to come, as candidates ride to Congress by observing the new first commandment of GOP primaries: The Trumpiest person wins, Politico writes. 

Waiting in the wings: The Washington Post reports that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s brief speech at the convention is a warning that a Biden administration will have to deal with liberal members of Congress looking to push the Democratic Party to the left, while also launching primary challenges against House members. 

100 years later: To mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the Los Angeles Times spoke with female lawmakers (including NRCC recruitment chairwoman Susan W. Brooks) to talk about why they’re still underrepresented in Congress

Campaigning in COVID times: National Journal caught up with Democrat Pat Timmons Goodson, who is running in North Carolina’s 8th District, to get a sense of what campaigning looks like in the midst of a pandemic.

Vice presidential stakes: Democratic Senate candidates in states with large Black populations say the selection of Harris on the ticket could give them a big down-ballot electoral boost in November, NBC News reports. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, has also energized West Indian voters in Florida, according to Politico. 

The new, old Kansas GOP: Kansas Republican primary voters rejected populist candidates and embraced pro-business social conservatives with ties to former Gov. Sam Brownback and his deputy (and successor) Jeff Colyer. Democrats seeking to wrest control of the Senate and pick up a second House seat in the historically red state see an opportunity to remind voters in November of tax cuts that led to deeply unpopular reductions in social services under the Brownback administration, the Kansas City Star reported.

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The count: $4.5 million

That’s how much money the GOP-aligned outside group One Nation, an affiliate of the Senate Leadership Fund, reserved in TV, cable and radio spots attacking incumbent Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters starting this week. Peters faces Republican challenger John James, a fundraising powerhouse who has trailed in the polls. The ads focus largely on economic fallout from the pandemic.

Nathan’s notes

Convention week means we have a “Nathan’s notes” double feature! To kick off the week, Nathan L. Gonzales highlighted how not being able to work a crowded arena, especially media rooms and donor suites, means 2020 candidates lost opportunities that candidates at past conventions got. And Nathan looks at Mississippi Senate candidate Mike Espy’s speech at the 1988 Democratic convention when he was “a rising star casting a vision for a New South.”

Candidate confessions

Amy McGrath, the Democrat challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, offered some insight into what her children think of their mom’s political campaign.

“I can’t say my kids are overjoyed about what I’m doing, but they just want to go back to school and be with their friends,” the retired Marine fighter pilot and mother of three said during a session of Elect Democratic Women tied to the party’s convention this week.

By contrast, fellow Senate candidate MJ Hegar, a Democrat from Texas, confided during the same virtual event that her two children encouraged her to run this cycle after losing a race for the state’s 31st District in 2018.

Reader’s race: MO-02

Democrats expanding their battleground see Republican Ann Wagner as a prime target in Missouri’s 2nd District where changes in voting behavior have been trending Democrats’ way since Trump won the seat by 10 points in 2016. The most recent sign came when voters in the suburban St. Louis area helped carry the August ballot measure approving Medicaid expansion in the state, over Republican objections. 

Wagner has tried to head off the threat by spearheading measures to appeal to suburban voters and restarting the Suburban Caucus in the House to focus on measures such as making health care affordable, supporting family caregivers and increasing school safety. But Trump’s slipping popularity in the suburbs is working against her. And while Wagner held on against a challenge from Democrat Cort VanOstran in 2018, the 4-point winning margin was her lowest since she first won office in 2012. 

Democrats think Wagner has met her match this cycle with their recruit, state Sen. Jill Schupp. Schupp outperformed former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and VanOstrom in her most recent reelection in the areas where her state Senate district and the congressional district overlap. 

And while Wagner reported a significant cash advantage, with $3.2 million in the bank compared to Schupp’s $1.6 million on July 15, Schupp has also proved her reputation as a strong fundraiser by outraising Wagner in each fundraising quarter since she announced her candidacy. 

Schupp has put the money to use by going on air first with a six-figure broadcast and cable tv ad introducing herself to voters earlier this month. The ad describes Schupp’s blue-collar upbringing in St. Louis County — her father was a car dealer and her mother tested hearing in local schools, an image Democrats are hoping to contrast with their depiction of Wagner as a D.C. elitist beholden to Wall Street and special interests. Expect to see more of the same, as both parties have reserved ad time that could be used in the district and recent polling shows the race has shifted. 

House Majority PAC, which backs Democrats, released a poll this week from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that showed Schupp leading Wagner 45 percent to 42 percent, with Biden leading Trump 48 percent to 46 percent in the district. A February poll from GOP firm Remington Research for the Missouri Scout newsletter had Wagner up 50 percent to 40 percent.

Inside Elections rates the race Lean Republican.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race in Illinois’ 13th District or Michigan’s 6th. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Republicans hold their virtual convention with some real-live action from the White House lawn, plus Republicans in Oklahoma’s 5th District choose a nominee in a runoff primary.

Photo finish

The next best thing to being there. (RJ Matson/CQ Roll Call)

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Missouri challenger Jill Schupp's total cash on hand was corrected in this report.