At the Races: Rage against the (tape) machine

Posted September 10, 2020 at 2:30pm

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.

There are tapes. Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” includes the bombshell revelation that President Donald Trump knew the coronavirus was deadly and airborne, even as he downplayed the virus in public. Those revelations are already starting to trickle into some congressional races. This morning, Maine Democratic Senate hopeful Sara Gideon’s campaign released a minutelong video juxtaposing audio of Trump from Woodward’s interview with footage from a Trump rally where the president said the virus might go away. Trump lost Maine by 3 points in 2018, and Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Gideon’s race against GOP Sen. Susan Collins a Toss-up.

California Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda, whose district Trump lost by 2 points, tied the president to his GOP opponent, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, accusing her in a statement of using Trump’s “playbook” and downplaying the virus. In the competitive open-seat race for Georgia’s 7th District, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux slammed her GOP opponent, emergency room physician Rich McCormick, saying he “used his credentials as a doctor to aid and abet the president every step of the way.” McCormick defended Trump’s response to the virus back in February.

It remains to be seen whether the audio from Trump’s interview with Woodward will appear in television and digital ads or fundraising appeals in more down-ballot races, especially since vulnerable House Democrats in Trump districts and Democratic Senate challengers in red states have largely avoided mentioning the president in their ads so far. But Nathan, our elections analyst, points out that the latest revelations could still indirectly hurt down-ballot Republicans if they prevent Trump from improving his overall standing in the presidential race.

Starting gate

In Trump they trust: New Hampshire Republicans showed allegiance to President Donald Trump in the state’s primaries Tuesday, backing his preferred candidates for a potentially competitive House district and for the party nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is expected to win in November. And in Rhode Island, Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin easily won his primary. 

Family ties: Jake Auchincloss, a Newton city councilor, is almost certainly heading to Capitol Hill next year after squeaking past a crowded Democratic primary field in Massachusetts’ 4th District last week, with a little help from a super PAC whose donors included his parents. The Auchincloss family also has a connection to the Kennedy clan whose own Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III vacated the seat to run (unsuccessfully) for Senate. 

Going virtual: Unions are known for their extensive turnout operations and field programs, but CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to adapt.

No longer all in the family: Districts represented by members of the same family are on the decline, CQ Roll Call’s Paul V. Fontelo reports.

Citizen slowdown: The pandemic is slowing a citizenship process that was already plagued by a backlog. CQ Roll Call’s Camila DeChalus delves into how the slowdown could prevent immigrants from becoming citizens in time to vote in November.

Political theater (literally): Bridget and Kate joined the latest Political Theater podcast with Jason Dick to discuss their interview with Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood and the directors of “Surge,” a new documentary that followed Underwood and two other Democratic women running for Congress in 2018.

ICYMI

Oh, that investigation: Voters in Virginia’s 2nd District got a fresh reminder Tuesday of the election fraud charges that derailed former Rep. Scott Taylor’s 2018 campaign with the indictment of a third member of his former campaign staff. Taylor, a Republican, has insisted that he was not implicated in the investigation, but his attempts to move on in his rematch against Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria have been undermined by the prosecutor’s statements that the investigation is not over and that no one, including Taylor, has been cleared.

Mail call: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Axios that Trump’s tendency to criticize and cast doubt on the security of voting by mail could hurt the party in November. 

Reservations for 3 (million): The DCCC made nearly $3 million in additional TV reservations, according to Politico Playbook. The largest share, more than $1 million, was directed at the San Antonio media market, which could be used for Texas’ 21st or 23rd districts. 

Frenemies: Army veteran Nick Freitas has united former enemies in his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s 7th District. The Hill reported that Freitas’ campaign finance committee includes two previous GOP occupants of the seat: former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and former Rep. Dave Brat, who defeated Cantor in an upset primary win in 2014 before losing to Spanberger four years later.

A New York (quarter) minute: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has been featured in a few ads in House races in NYC recently. This week, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, tied Democrat Jackie Gordon to the mayor in the competitive race for the open 2nd District. And vulnerable Democratic Rep. Max Rose responded to GOP attempts to tie him to the mayor by releasing a new 15-second digital ad saying simply, “Bill de Blasio is the worst mayor in the history of New York City. That’s it, guys. Seriously, that’s the whole ad.”

What we’re reading

Where things stand: In his latest column, Stu Rothenberg takes a look at where the presidential race stands.

McConnelling: CNN talked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about how he’s trying to keep the chamber in GOP hands. 

Déjà vu all over again: The New York Times has a pair of stories about how both parties are reopening their 2018 playbooks, with Democrats launching ads focused on health care, and Republicans trying to “scare voters,” but with a new focus on “law and order.” 

Trollbooth: Anyone who has met him should not be surprised at how Democratic New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. revels in trolling Trump on Twitter. At his first political event at age 16, the now 83-year-old Pascrell says in a profile on NJ.com that things got so testy a thrown chair whizzed past his head. “And I said to myself, ‘I might like this.’”

Oh DeJoy: The Washington Post dug into Louis DeJoy’s past as a GOP fundraiser and found that the postmaster general allegedly had employees make campaign contributions and later reimbursed them. One beneficiary of the straw donor scheme? Vulnerable North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. 

Just peachy: Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins’ campaign for Senate picked up backers in the state Legislature — including some who’d previously supported rival Sen. Kelly Loeffler — after getting House Speaker David Ralston’s endorsement, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported

And these guys were really looking: Ben Ginsburg, the recently retired lawyer who said he’s been helping Republicans try to spot voting violations in every election since 1984, writes in a Washington Post op-ed that the widespread fraud Trump talks about does not exist and elections are not rigged.

It was my understanding that there would be no math: Morning Consult delves into how independent voters are creating a math problem for vulnerable Colorado GOP Sen. Cory Gardner.

The count: $210 million

That’s how much money the Trump team and its fundraising affiliates, including the Republican National Committee, hauled in during the month of August. It’s a big pile of cash, no question, but it falls far short of the record-shattering $364.5 million that the Biden campaign and its affiliates rounded up last month. 

The Trump campaign said donors contributed $76 million during the four days of the GOP convention. “The Trump campaign will have all the resources we need to spread the message of President Trump’s incredible record of achievement,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a news release.

Nathan’s notes

“The votes haven’t even been counted yet, but one thing is certain: The next Congress is going to be filled with losers,” Nathan writes in his latest column. No, he’s not being rude, just pointing out that this isn’t the first race for several candidates in top races.

Candidate confessions

Bob Good, a Republican running in Virginia’s 5th District, observed the anniversary of 9/11 at a Tuesday rally, noting that he watched the events unfold that day on a television in an Atlanta laundromat next door to the office where he was working at the time. 

He used the anecdote to acknowledge the law enforcement officers who ran into the twin towers and to attack his Democratic opponent Cameron Webb, who he said was aligned with “leftist radicals who want to defund our police and tear down our institutions.” Webb, who has said he does not support defunding or abolishing the police, released an ad the next day highlighting endorsements from two longtime county sheriffs in the district and noting that his father was a law enforcement official who trained officers at the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Reader’s race: NH-01

Republicans have their sights on this district, which Trump carried ever so slightly in 2016 by fewer than 2 points. In reality, it will be a tall order to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, who won two years ago with nearly 54 percent of the vote. 

Pappas faces a Trump-backed candidate, Republican Matt Mowers, a former executive director of the state GOP who served in the Trump administration before running for Congress and won his primary Tuesday. Mowers traces his political roots to New Jersey where he worked for former Gov. Chris Christie and was a Bridgegate witness. Offering a glimpse at some of the general election messaging on Mowers, DCCC spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer referred to him as a “New Jersey carpetbagger” while also hitting him for his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act.

A memo this week from the NRCC concluded that the “perennial swing district” represents a “prime pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2020,” and attacked Pappas for voting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi “99% of the time, supporting Washington Democrats’ insane socialist agenda.” Pappas  has voted with members of his party 96.9 percent of the time on legislation that split Democrats and Republicans, according to CQ Roll Call’s Vote Watch.

Pappas held a comfortable lead over Mowers, 52 percent to 34 percent, in a recent Granite State poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. The incumbent, who was the first openly gay member of Congress from the state, had $1.5 million in the bank as of Aug. 19, while Mowers held $373,000. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic.

For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the race for Iowa’s 3rd District or the South Carolina Senate race. Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

The last primary before November is set for next week, with voters in Delaware heading to the polls on Tuesday.

Photo finish

Trump this week added three GOP senators to his list of potential future Supreme Court justices: Missouri’s Josh Hawley, pictured here talking in February to Texas’ Ted Cruz, who also made the list, and Arkansas’ Tom Cotton. All three are also potential presidential contenders in 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Subscribe now using this link so you don’t miss out on the best news and analysis from our team, plus key stories and data that will keep you informed about 2020 races.