At the Races: Mitch’s last-minute shopping

Posted December 17, 2020 at 2:30pm

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Lawmakers are bracing for a weekend of work as they finalize a COVID-19 relief package (and government spending deal) before the end of the Congress — and before the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia. The COVID-19 measure has taken on a new sense of urgency with jobless claims rising and Republicans increasingly worried that Georgia voters could blame incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue if they fail to act. But it begs the question: Where was the political urgency before the November elections, when congressional Republicans fared very well? It’s worth noting that the current deal is a lot closer to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted.

As members of the 116th Congress limp across the finish line of their lame-duck session, this week also marked the first time key Republicans in the Senate recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is moving forward, and the event provides new opportunities for individual and corporate donors to donate big sums of cash. Companies can fork over seven-figure contributions to Biden’s inaugural committee and, in return, perks await — much to the chagrin of liberal groups. 

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The inaugural committee accepts individual contributions up to $500,000 and corporate donations up to $1 million, according to an official with the presidential inaugural committee. 

The situation offers the latest example of the intra-Democratic friction over the role of corporations in politics. “Barack Obama did not accept corporate contributions for his 2009 inaugural, and neither should Joe Biden,” Maria Langholz of Demand Progress said in an email to ATR. “Rejecting corporate contributions to the inauguration fund is a key step this administration can take to signal where its allegiances lie — and whether it is serious about ‘building back better’ in a way that remedies the longstanding ills of the country.”

Starting gate

Peach pitch: Biden went to Georgia on Tuesday to say he needs Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as senators to do the things Georgians elected him to do — but other Democratic luminaries are making appearances virtually, as the GOP warns one-party rule is the gateway to socialism.

Don’t flip the channel yet: The Electoral College’s vote has to be certified by Congress on Jan. 6, and Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks is seeking a Senate colleague to make a formal objection to the votes in several states. If Georgia’s votes are challenged, one House freshman voting on the objection will be Democrat Nikema Williams — who was one of Georgia’s electors on Monday. Loeffler wouldn’t say Wednesday if she would join Brooks in objecting.

It all comes down to turnout: Early voting started in Georgia on Monday, and the national parties and outside groups working to turn out voters are also keeping some lessons from November in mind. 

It’s complicated: Despite a threatened veto from President Donald Trump, Perdue and Loeffler voted last week for the National Defense Authorization Act — even as they put out a joint statement criticizing the same provisions that fueled Trump’s opposition. Trump repeated his veto threat in a tweet this morning. He has until next week to follow through.

ICYMI

Trump’s was bigger: We can be sure that Biden won’t start his administration boasting about the crowd at his inauguration. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies revealed Wednesday that because of the pandemic, it would limit the crowd on Jan. 20 “to a live audience that resembles a State of the Union,” CQ Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reported.

Facebook backs down (kind of): Facebook announced it would lift the ban on political ads it imposed to counter postelection misinformation, but just for the Senate runoffs in Georgia. Both parties had complained the ban was detrimental to their efforts in the Peach State.

Taking her Turn(er): Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, who gained national attention for supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, announced this week that she is running for Rep. Marcia L. Fudge’s House seat once the Democrat leaves Congress to become Biden’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Turner quickly won the backing of progressive groups as well Sanders

The counting continues: The New York GOP sent a fundraising email Tuesday claiming that Pelosi was “dispatching her team of henchmen to New York’s 22nd congressional district in an attempt to try and steal this seat.” Nope. The House Administration Committee has sent observers, including a Republican staffer, to the district, which is in the process of a court-ordered recanvassing with Republican Claudia Tenney leading Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi by just 12 votes. The staffers are observing and gathering information in case the race ends up being contested in the House.

He’s running (again): California Democratic Rep. TJ Cox announced in a fundraising email last week that he would run against Republican David Valadao, who narrowly defeated Cox in a rematch in the 21st District. But Cox won’t be the only Democratic contender. Former state Assemblywoman Nicole Parra also announced she would run for the seat. 

Mayor Max? New York Rep. Max Rose, the Democrat who lost his Staten Island-based district last month, announced Sunday that he was exploring a run for New York City mayor. “In Afghanistan, and in Congress, I never backed down. I told the truth, brought people together, got the job done, and stood up for what was right — even if it meant losing my election,” Rose said.  

Schriock shock: EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock announced last week that she is leaving the group, which backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

Millionaire money: The campaign finance overhaul group End Citizens United has hammered Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat, for backtracking on her pledge to reject donations from the political action committees of companies. Now another group is piling on, the liberal-leaning Patriotic Millionaires, which favors higher tax rates for wealthy Americans. “Rep. Luria may have forgotten why corporate PAC money is so damaging to democracy and her constituents, but we haven’t,” the group said. CQ Roll Call first reported that Luria planned to start taking corporate PAC money in the next cycle.

What we’re reading

Stu says: Having looked back on the year last week, Stu Rothenberg reflects all the way back to his arrival in D.C. 40 years ago and concludes that the GOP has moved to the right more than Democrats have moved to the left.

A Trump test in the Tar Heel State: CNN reports that Lara Trump (the president’s daughter-in-law) isn’t expected to clear the Republican field if she runs for Senate in North Carolina in 2022. GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who was just reelected, predicted there could be seven to 10 Republican contenders. 

California blaming: Did House Democrats disappoint in November because the GOP painted them as advance troops for vegan socialism, or because they steered too close to the middle? The Los Angeles Times looked at that question through the lens of races in neighboring California districts where centrist Democrat Harley Rouda lost and progressive favorite Katie Porter won. 

Ron John in the spotlight: Politico and The Washington Post have stories on Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who has become a staunch Trump ally and this week chaired a hearing on election “irregularities.” Johnson initially said he’d only serve two terms in the Senate, but both outlets report that he is leaving the door open to running for a third term in 2022. He’d be a top Democratic target as a Republican in a state Biden carried. 

Bacon brings it home: HuffPost has a deep dive into Nebraska’s 2nd District, where Democrat Kara Eastman’s repeat loss to GOP Rep. Don Bacon was a blow to progressives looking to prove they can win in competitive seats. 

M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I: National Journal delves into Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s upcoming race in 2022, and why it may be more akin to Maine Sen. Susan Collins’ reelection than to fellow Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan’s race this year.

Mixing religion and politics: Recent vandalism at churches, following pro-Trump rallies, exposes divisions over faith and politics, The Associated Press examines. 

The count: $2 billion

That’s how much donors contributed through Republicans’ online fundraising platform WinRed since it launched in June 2019. The average donation was $47, WinRed said in a press release Tuesday. The platform was developed to counter ActBlue, the Democrats’ online fundraising tool that has fueled record amounts of grassroots donations. According to WinRed, 1,300 campaigns are raising money through the platform, including 90 percent of Republicans in Congress and every state party.

Nathan’s notes

Nathan L. Gonzales explains why he’s rating both Georgia Senate runoffs as Toss-ups and why he doesn’t need to rely on polling to do so. 

Candidate confessions

South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison’s record-breaking fundraising couldn’t make up for the personal connections he missed out on because of the coronavirus pandemic, he told us recently. 

“One of the things we decided not to do, up until late, was to not canvas,” he said of his unsuccessful Senate bid against Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham. “I really think that that hurt us because the Republicans were canvassing the entire time.”

Harrison was one of many Democrats who moved his campaign to an almost entirely virtual operation in the early days of the pandemic. Harrison had personal reasons to be concerned. He is pre-diabetic and he lost a great-aunt to the disease. Nevertheless, he said, he thought Democrats were too late to come up with workarounds and praised the Democrats in the Georgia Senate runoffs for holding socially distant outdoor events and car rallies modeled after the Biden campaign. 

For his part, Harrison said, he felt a deficit against Republicans who, he said, were “driving without restrictor plates” by continuing to campaign in person throughout most of the pandemic. That’s a car racing metaphor. Yes, those of us not from NASCAR-land had to look it up.

Georgia watch

It’s still more than two weeks until Election Day, but early voting is well underway in Georgia’s two Senate runoffs and all four campaigns see the week before the holidays as crucial. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, 800,000 ballots had already been cast in just over two days of early voting, Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling said at a press briefing. 

That set a new record and outpaced the rate for the November general election, which itself set participation records. 

Biden followed up his Tuesday visit to Georgia with an ad, released this morning, in which he looks straight at the camera and tells viewers he needs Ossoff and Warnock in the Senate. 

On the Republican side, Vice President Mike Pence is making his third stop in the state today and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced a three-stop tour starting Sunday. 

But it’s not clear if Trump will return. Yesterday Trump retweeted a call for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans, to be jailed for refusing to overturn the state’s election results. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany wouldn’t say whether the president would be going back to Georgia. “He’s been there once,” she told Fox News on Wednesday.

Perdue and Loeffler have sided with Trump, declining to recognize Biden’s victory in the state. They continued to get flak from Republicans in the state for carrying Trump’s water. 

After Perdue and Loeffler demanded access to data on newly registered voters, Raffensperger shot back that they were asking for public information that both campaigns already had. “Early voting has already started but it’s not too late for them to call their offices and get their campaigns in order,” Raffensperger tweeted. 

Loeffler also faced blowback for posing for a photo with a well-known white supremacist, whom she condemned after the picture went viral. Warnock, meanwhile, was praised for using his adorable pet beagle in his campaign commercials to subtly dismantle stereotypes against Black candidates.

In what could be a positive sign for the Republicans, analyses of November voting showed that ticket splitting was common, with voters who rejected Trump supporting down-ballot Republicans in areas both parties are targeting. In the press briefing Tuesday, Sterling pointed to Fulton County, home to Atlanta, where Perdue got 9,000 more votes than Trump. 

Up next: watch for what  role Perdue and Loeffler play in the final negotiations for COVID-19 relief, especially afterMcConnell acknowledged this week that the two were “getting hammered” for inaction on the pandemic.

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.

Coming up

Ho-ho-holy cow did you see how much [fill in the blank] raised? The Federal Election Commission, an agency known for its whimsey if nothing else, has set midnight, Dec. 24 as the deadline for Georgia Senate runoff candidates to file preelection campaign finance reports.

Photo finish

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could probably tell you that the average annual snowfall in the Phoenix area is 0.0 inches. It was different outside the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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