At the Races: Countdown to Perdeffler v. Ossock

Posted December 10, 2020 at 2:30pm

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In the true spirit of 2020, Republicans and Democrats are ready to put the year behind them. 

Both the DCCC and the NRCC announced some new additions for the 2022 cycle this week. Meanwhile, both chambers of Congress tried to finish their business before the New Year with the balance of power in the Senate hinging on the January runoffs in Georgia.

On the campaign front, newly elected DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney this week named team of eight lawmakers who will serve as transition leaders charged with building a diverse DCCC that “looks like America.” 

And the NRCC named John Billings as its next executive director, crediting him for his contributions to House Republicans’ shut-out performance in November through his old job as director of the Patriot Program, which focuses on vulnerable incumbents.

But 2020 is still delivering punches on the Hill, where lawmakers are racing to pass COVID-19 relief, the annual defense authorization bill and a spending plan to keep the government from shutting down. Somehow, members from both sides still found time to stump for candidates in Georgia, where it will be 2020 at least until election day on Jan. 5.

Starting gate

Biden’s Cabinet: President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to tap Ohio Democrat Marcia L. Fudge to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development will further shrink House Democrats’ majority, creating an opening for Fudge’s old political rival to run for her seat, CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa and Jessica Wehrman report. It also led House leaders to ask Biden to look elsewhere for further administration picks. And, with the news that Biden plans to nominate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary, here’s a throwback to the 2019 Iowa State Fair (remember that?!), when CQ Roll Call’s Thomas McKinless caught up with Vilsack to talk about how the Democratic Party can appeal to rural voters. 

A lotta lobstah: Democrat Sara Gideon, who lost to GOP Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, finished the race with nearly $15 million unspent in her campaign account, FEC filings show. 

Moving up: Luke Letlow, chief of staff to Republican Ralph Abraham in Louisiana’s 5th District, won the runoff Saturday for the seat his boss decided to give up after losing last year’s governor’s race.

A little help from my friends: Campaign finance reports filed last week showed that members of Congress (more Republicans than Democrats) are contributing to their parties’ efforts in Georgia’s Senate runoffs. 

It’s back: The FEC has a full slate of six members for the first time since February 2017, after senators confirmed three new commissioners to the campaign finance regulator Wednesday.

Relief pressure: As senators in Washington negotiated a new round of COVID-19 relief, Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler faced Democratic pressure in their runoff campaigns over their early opposition to $600 weekly unemployment boosts and other targeted measures. 

Defund the government: Loeffler hasn’t backed down from her false attacks that her Democratic challenger, Raphael Warnock, wants to defund the police. So Warnock punched back during Sunday’s debate, saying that Loeffler voted to take money away from a community policing program. We looked at the vote in question and found that Warnock’s claim is a stretch at best. 

ICYMI

Too late? Google is lifting a postelection ban on political advertising today that was meant to combat disinformation surrounding the November results. The decision comes more than a month after both Republicans and Democrats raised alarms about the ban and another still in effect at Facebook that they said unintentionally hampered fundraising and outreach in the Senate runoffs in Georgia. 

Denied: The Supreme Court rejected a long-shot bid by President Donald Trump’s allies in Pennsylvania (including GOP Rep. Mike Kelly) to overturn the state’s election result, CQ Roll Call’s Todd Ruger reported. 

Year of the GOP Woman: Rep.-elect Michelle Fischbach, who unseated Democrat Collin C. Peterson in Minnesota’s 7th District, shares her story and top priorities for Congress with video producer McKinless.

New NewDems: NewDem Action Fund, the political arm of the House’s moderate New Democrat Coalition, has a new chairman. Illinois’ Brad Schneider was appointed to the role for the 2022 cycle, and California’ Salud Carbajal and New Jersey’s Mikie Sherrill were appointed co-chairs of the group’s Keystone fundraising program. For the 2020 cycle, Schneider co-chaired the DCCC’s Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents, along with incoming NDC Chairwoman Suzan DelBene.  

Third time’s the charm? California Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith filed to run against Rep. Mike Garcia in 2022, in what would be her third race against the GOP lawmaker.

He’s running: Sen. Marco Rubio initially didn’t want to run again for the Senate in 2016 after his failed presidential run, but the Florida Republican switched gears and won reelection. This month, Rubio made it clear that he’s running for a third term, telling Miami’s NBC 6 his campaign is “full steam ahead” and he has “every intention of being on that ballot in 2022.”

What we’re reading

What year was the impeachment trial? Stu Rothenberg awards his winners and losers of 2020, including the always coveted “Republican of the year.” 

Postelection checkup: After suffering losses in 2020 down-ballot, some Democrats are questioning whether focusing so much on health care was the right choice, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Twitter isn’t reality?: Many of the anti-Trump ads from The Lincoln Project that got the most buzz on Twitter during the presidential campaign did not score very well in their ability to actually shift voters toward Biden, Priorities USA found in a study covered by The Daily Beast. But in some cases, the point was to keep voters already in Biden’s column fired up.

That’s the ticket: FiveThirtyEight compared Biden’s victory with House and Senate race results and found there actually wasn’t a lot of ticket-splitting.

Can’t stop, won’t stop raising money: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor specializing in elections and campaigns at Stetson University who argues in favor of a campaign finance overhaul, shares her 20 political money takeaways from the 2020 cycle. 

The count: 12

That’s how many votes former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney may be leading Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi by in the 22nd District in upstate New York. Maybe. The race has been playing out in court amid reports of problematic counting, such as marking ballots with sticky notes that fell off. This week, state Supreme Court Justice Scott J. DelConte ordered each of the district’s eight counties to “immediately correct all of the canvassing errors and, where their errors cannot be corrected, recanvass those ballots.” The timeline is still unclear, but DelConte wrote in his ruling, “It is more important that this election is decided right, than that it is decided right now.”

In his ruling, which also included the definition of a sticky note, DelConte wrote that “there is absolutely no evidence or even an allegation before this Court of any fraud on the part of the Boards or the campaigns” and the problems he saw were due to "the careless or inadvertent failure” to follow the law. Daily Kos Elections’ combed through the ruling to get a sense of the number of ballots with issues, and found more than 2,100 in play. 

Tenney spokesman Sean Kennedy said in a statement, “It appears that this ruling will see to it that every legal vote is counted,” and he was confident Tenney would prevail. Brindisi called the decision “a win for the people of the 22nd District” and said he was “hopeful” he would win. If you’re interested in following all of the NY-22 twists and turns, WBNG 12 News’ Josh Rosenbaltt is a must-follow on Twitter.

Nathan’s notes

With 2020’s Senate races in overtime in Georgia, and many months to go before House districts are redrawn with new census data, Nathan L. Gonzales has a message for those looking for ratings on the 2022 battlegrounds: Chill out for a while.

Candidate confessions

Rep.-elect Nancy Mace, the Republican who unseated South Carolina Democrat Joe Cunningham, admitted recently that she’s still figuring out her way on Capitol Hill — literally. 

“I’m like a kid lost at a fun park,” she tweeted. “Staying in place and standing still until my Chief comes and gets me. Lost in the Capitol. I did make it through the tunnels today and I’m gonna take that as a win!” 

We’ve been there too. 

Georgia watch

Early in-person voting starts Monday in Georgia, and both parties have picked up the pace as they seek to get their message to voters in the final weeks before the Jan. 5 runoff elections. Total ad spending has already exceeded $400 million. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan will join the rotating cast of Republicans to stump in the state this weekend as part of the Club for Growth’s “Save America tour” to support Perdue and Loeffler. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, both 2020 presidential candidates, campaigned for the Democrats. And Biden announced he will travel there next week to help get out the vote for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Warnock. 

Polls continue to show that both races are tight. But the real measure of who has an edge in the two contests will come in the coming weeks, as absentee ballot requests and early voting data is released.

“It’s going to be a turnout game,” Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer told At the Races. “I wouldn’t pay much attention to the polls in this particular case, because I don’t need a poll to tell me it’s going to be close.”

Over 1.1 million voters have so far requested absentee ballots, compared to 1.3 million for the November election, the Georgia secretary of state’s office said Wednesday. That included at least 70,000 voters who did not vote in the November election who were primarily 18-29-year-olds and people of color, a demographic group that generally supports Democrats, according to Fair Fight Action, the mobilization group founded by voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.

But some voters might be frustrated at the polls after the state’s most populous county announced it would not operate six of the 11 polling places it had open in November. Cobb County election officials said they were dealing with staffing shortages, but voting rights advocates pointed out that many of the shuttered locations were in minority neighborhoods. And the Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party on Tuesday sued to reduce the use of absentee ballot dropboxes across the state. 

Meanwhile, fallout from Trump’s feud with Georgia’s Republican election officials continued to divide the GOP and complicate voter mobilization messaging on the right. 

Loeffler avoided answering pointed questions about whether she accepted Biden’s victory during her debate Sunday night with Warnock. She and Perdue also said they “fully supported” a Texas lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Peach State’s election results, which showed Biden winning by 11,779 votes.

Coming up

A twofer on Monday, when members of the Electoral College meet in each state, and early in-person voting starts in the Georgia runoffs. 

Watch this space

Loyal readers may remember our old “Shop Talk” column about campaign staffers, and we’re bringing it back for At the Races in the new year! Each week, we’ll feature a different operative, looking at their past campaigns and how they see the current landscape. As we get up and running, send any tips about whom we should talk to by emailing attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Photo finish

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, one of just two incumbent Republicans in Congress defeated on Nov. 3, led his family through the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, the day he delivered his final floor speech. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Publishing note: At the Races will publish next Thursday as usual, but during the holiday weeks we’ll hit your inboxes on Tuesday, Dec. 22, and then take a break. We’ll be back after that on Thursday, Jan. 7.

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